Where to next?

Last night I took my eldest on a tour of what will be her high school next year. It was pretty overwhelming for both of us if I’m completely honest. She is at the point with primary school where she is really loving it and the thought of leaving all that (and her friends) next year kind of sucks, no matter how great the school is.

For me it’s a realisation that things are changing. My kids are growing up, I’m in my second year of university, eventually we will have to move from this rental (hopefully to our own home) and in just a few short years our life will look different. Very different.

We haven’t travelled in over a year now. Not even interstate. Not even INTRAstate! Corona bites. And that may be contributing to our flat moods about change.

So in three weeks we’re going on an Easter vacation down to the Gold Coast. Stay tuned for pics of that both here and on my instagram. It’s going to be great.

A week off work will give me some space to get some uni work done too. I have had thoughts of “what if I can’t get a prac spot” and “what if I can’t get a job” creep in that I need to let go of. As well as how will we do all of *this* when we add high school to the mix of stuff we have to *do.*

But we will manage. We always do. Big change coming fast, and slow, and we will deal with it.

Keeping on Track

I think we’re all sick of hearing “these uncertain times.”

I think we’re all sick of making plans just to have them scrapped at the last minute. Not always getting our money back. Not always having enough time to make alternate plans.

I booked a colour run for last year, maybe it’ll happen this April. Fingers crossed.

But I still have big goals and big plans. So how am I keeping on track?

The reality is, I’m not always keeping on track. I’m not always eating the healthiest freshest food. I’m not always keeping up my running. Sometimes my uni work gets the better of me. But I am trying.

Like this blog. I said I was coming back…. and then I forgot to post for a while.

This is a pandemic. I just have to deal with it the best I can.

So when I feel myself slipping, I pull myself back again. Eat better. Run again. Write a blog post.

I don’t beat myself up for letting it go for a while, I focus on what I’m doing now.

That’s all we can do. And that’s how I am keeping on track.

I’m Back!

A few weeks ago I was back in the office and chatting with a coworker from my old team. He asked if I was still blogging and I said “nah, not really, been busy.” Which was true but I am no more busy than I was when I started blogging last year.

Truth is I stopped blogging because this blog reminded me of the plans that were ruined by 2020. I wanted to forget about the trip that never happened. I had been so invested in the trip to Japan that it was hard to go back to blogging.

I wanted to wallow in feeling like 2020 sucked and I got nothing done, but it’s not true.

I finished my first year of my degree and I got good marks too.

I lost 10kg and started on a path to being the healthiest I have been since I left the Navy.

I finished my Iron Man cross stitch which I have been working on for 5 years.

I had more time with family than ever (thank you, work from home)!

2020 was pretty good. Not great, but good. 2021 might be more of the same. I’d love to go to Japan this year but… we’ll see. I’m not betting on it. I do want to blog more, be more creative. Maybe I can log my health and fitness journey, and my Japanese language learning, and maybe even do a blog tour of my Animal Crossing island – all of the important things.

Welcome to Quarantine

So this COVID-19 thing, it’s really taken over everyone’s lives. Including mine. And for the next little bit I’m staying home with my kids.

We’re not infected, but we don’t want to be, and Australia’s infection rate is going up and it’s scary right now.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. So many people are losing their jobs. I don’t feel safe sending my kids back to school right now.

I don’t think I’ll be going to Japan at the end of the year.

But this could also be a good thing. Time to catch up with what’s going on with my kids. We can spend some real quality time together. With kids, the days are long but the years go quick. It won’t be long before they’re teenagers.

I am not setting up a home school situation. We will do some educational activities and I will work through some of the resources from Education Queensland with them but I am prioritising our mental health above all else at right now.

It’s only day one, I feel optimistic. If all goes well maybe we can go back to school and work after Easter. We’ll see.

But I will blog about it.

Time to create a primary source about the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to Plan a Solo Trip to Japan

There are all sorts of trips – family holidays, honeymoons, group trips, work trips, girls weekends, staycation – and right now I am planning my very first solo trip.

Back to Japan.

I’m going back to take more amazing selfies like this one, obviously

Because, of course that’s where I’m going.

It didn’t start out as a solo trip but that’s how the dice fell and so that’s what I’m doing.

I go in 9 months, so I have a lot of time to plan. However even so far out I can see a series of pros and cons emerging. So over the next 9 months you’ll read about my process of preparing for my solo trip.

Let’s talk about the initial planning phase of any trip.

1 – Picking the destination

Pros of doing this on a solo trip is that you have complete control over the decision of where to go. You do not have to convince anyone else why they would want to go there. It’s your holiday, it’s your choice.

Con of doing this for a solo trip. You are almost yelling into an echo chamber when it comes to coming up with ideas of where to go. If you’ve already been there it gives you a more informed opinion and YouTube helps to get a feel for it but ask a real person and the response is “it’s your holiday, do what you like.”

2 – Deciding on a budget

Pros of planning a solo trip – you can really make your dollar (or yen, whatever) stretch further. It’s food for one, flights for one, accommodation for one. Our last trip to Japan cost us around $20,000.00 AUD for 4 people for 2 weeks. And that sounds like a lot but flights were $4,000.00 and accommodation was about that too. Going in a group adds up quick.

Cons of planning a solo trip – there is no cost sharing. There’s no splitting the bill. It’s all on you.

3 – Booking Accommodation

Pros of planning a solo trip – a whole world of accommodation choices open up when going it alone and especially when not travelling with young children. Capsule hotels were off the menu for our last trip because the kids are too young so it was top of my list for this trip. Last trip we were also very mindful of not moving around too much so the kids had a bit of a home base, going alone means I can be a bit more fluid and flexible with my itinerary.

Cons of planning a solo trip – a lot of places you pay for the room rather than the number of people in it so it’s $200.00 a night whether it’s 1 person or 5 people. So accommodation for a solo trip can be a big expense.

4 – Planning the Itinerary

Pros of planning a solo trip – your holiday, your choice. Like museums? Go to them! Hate museums? Don’t go to them! Vegetarian? Pick your restaurants accordingly. Love trains? Go on lots! Love theme parks? Get your tickets! Hate crowds? Head for the country.

The choices are endless and it is all up to you. And you don’t need to sell your choices to anyone. I want to go to the Snoopy Muesum in Roppongi, so guess where I’m going in December?

Cons of planning a solo trip – your holiday, your choice. Some of the best holiday memories are made when doing something you didn’t plan or choose. You lose some of that when you don’t have anyone else making choices for the trip.

And I’ll be seeing this again in only 9 months time

So that’s my observations so far on the difference between planning a family trip and a solo trip. I am sure there are others who have had similar and different experiences of this. Drop a comment below of your thoughts.

How to Make Online Study Work For You

My name’s Amanda, and I’m addicted to learning.

And I don’t mean that in a corny sort of way. I genuinely feel better about myself and my life when learning new things. As a parent and generally, a busy adult, traditional learning settings don’t really work for my lifestyle. Enter – distance education.

Distance education used to be a pack of learnings materials sent in the mail, you do your best to figure them out, you do some assessment and you hope for the best. This really isn’t the case any more. I’ve completed one degree largely via distance education and in a weeks time I will start another.

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Here we go again!

I recognise that distance education or online study isn’t for everyone. We all learn in different ways and some people really do their best with one on one interaction with a teacher or tutor. However, if you are considering studying online here are some tips and tricks that I used to make it work for me.

Be organised

So this one seems like a given but if you’re trying to balance work, social life, parenting, sport, etc and adding on online study – it can be a lot. However, there are 24 hours in every day so it’s not impossible.

For the most part I listen to lectures on the way to and from work, I have at least a 45 minute commute so I may as well make the most of it. I do readings before bed. I do a half day of study in the middle of the week and another on the weekend. I do a little more leading up to exams. I get my assignments started well and truly before the due date and have them submitted at least a few days in advance.

And I plan for things to go wrong.

The night before a big chemistry exam I was looking after a sick toddler, but the exam went fine because I had already been doing a consistent amount of study each night leading up to it. I was tired on the day, but I was prepared.

Have a good support network

Surround yourself with people who support your goals and study ambitions. Have people in your corner who understand that if you have an essay due that you might not be able to keep all your previous social engagements or that you might need an extra hand with things while you’re getting some study done. Have people around you who understand that you might need to vent sometimes but that doesn’t mean you want to quit.

Studying online can be a bit lonely sometimes so it does help having a support network you can count on to get you through the hard bits.

Have a dedicated study space

You can do your readings while you’ve got Netflix going on the telly, you can write your essay at the kitchen table, you can go over your study notes on a park bench – but having a dedicated study space (if possible) really gets you into the headspace of “I mean business.”

Now, this contradicts my previous comment about listening to lectures during my commute, so let me explain. I do listen to lectures in my car driving to work but my essays, writing notes, completing online quizzes, preparing for exams – that all happens at my desk. When completing my last degree I found it very helpful to be able to close the door and just focus on what I’m doing. Having that dedicated space helped me get in the zone.

Have a goal in mind

Studying for the sake of studying can be enjoyable and rewarding, however for best results I really recommend studying with a goal in mind. It doesn’t matter if that goal is to fill a gap in your CV, to complete your next level of education, or to get qualified to get a particular job – a goal will keep you focused on the days when you just cannot be bothered and YouTube is calling your name. Which leads me to…

Be realistic

If you are working full time, have a whole gaggle of kids, and already struggle to find time to yourself – maybe take on part time study rather than full time? Honestly some degrees have bigger time demands than others and I’d really recommend looking into it before committing. Especially if you’ve never studied online before.

Studying online can be incredibly flexible and give you the freedom to work and attend to other commitments but it also requires you to manage your time well into order to complete everything required of you, especially when exams or other assessments are coming up. Really look into the amount of time the degree would require before you commit.

Give yourself a break

Make sure you still go to the movies, you hang out with friends, you go out to dinner, you go on your holidays. Spend Christmas morning with your family. Keep playing your sports. Read a book, write a story, go for a hike, bake a cake. Whatever it is that makes you feel relaxed, do that thing.

Study can be rewarding and there are a lot of benefits, but it can also be stressful. It’s really important that you don’t cut yourself off from the things that make you happy. The only way to be successful is to look after yourself.

Use the support services provided by your university/college

The schools providing these online courses are generally getting better at supporting their students. If you are struggling and you’ve tried all you can, reach out to your school and get help. It may make all the difference.

And that’s it! I wish you all the best with your studying endeavours. And wish me luck – hopefully in a few years I’ll be teaching History and Japanese to Australian high school students – at least that’s the plan.

Harajuku – Kawaii, Cosplay, Crowds

When I was a teenager, I had this book called Fresh Fruits by Shoichi Aoki which is filled with pictures and profiles of Fashionistas in Harajuku. I have no idea where I bought this book or why, but I do remember being absolutely captivated by the strange fashions and interesting interviews held within the pages.

Now somewhere between joining the Navy, moving to Victoria and then New South Wales and the Brisbane and then… well you get the idea… the book has gone *somewhere* BUT the memory of what I saw in those pages inspired me to hit up Takeshita Dori when we went to Tokyo.

Harajuku is a neighbourhood in Shibuya City. It is well known for it’s kawaii culture, quirky vintage shops and *those* crepes! It’s a place that feels very fun, but also very touristy. And if you’ve seen the photos of the main street (Takeshita Dori) just jam packed with people – they are not faked! That is what Harajuku is like… on the weekend.

We went twice. Once was purely by accident while walking from Shinjuku to Shibuya in search of the Hachiko Statue. That first time we went on a week day and it was busy, but no where near as busy as when we went the following Sunday. See the following pictures for a comparison.

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Takeshita Dori in a week day
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Takeshita Dori on the weekend

The first time we went we had a bit of a look around and hit up some stores. My daughter and I jumped in a photo booth to relive my teenage years and then she hit up some gachapon machines. We honestly didn’t stay too long but it was long enough to get a good feel for the place (and I had a tattoo appointment in Shibuya to get to).

We returned to Harajuku on the weekend to find a huge crowd. So we really stayed away from the main street. There wasn’t much there that we felt we couldn’t buy elsewhere and instead of the fashionistas and cosplayers – there were just crowds and crowds of people. It was actually quite overwhelming.

We also thought the Disney Store in Harajuku had a great range of products but it wasn’t decorated as nicely as the one on Odaiba Island. So if you’re after the real Disney Store atmosphere, this isn’t the store for you.

We did go to Harry Harajuku – a hedgehog cafe. Unlike the absolute tourist trap that was the dog cafe in Akihabara, this one was really good. The hedgehogs were cute and all had their own distinct personalities. Sam held one that was just so hyped up by everything, Tim got to hold the biggest one in the joint – some were sleepy, some were really affectionate, and all were just delightful. I would highly recommend Harry’s Harajuku if you’re looking to do something totally absolutely positively cute. Have I mentioned that they were cute?

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Harry’s Hedgehog Cafe

We then went for a walk and found Tokyu Plaza, the most instagram-able place in Tokyo. And the mirrored ceiling really was spectacular. The shops inside were really just shops. A lot of high end brands and the line to get into the Frozen 2 themed cafe was intense. We took our photo and then moved on. We bought nothing.

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Tokyu Plaza

The thrift stores in Harajuku were really cool but very overpriced. You really are paying to say you went thrifting in Harajuku. We looked, it was a fun experience to window shop there, but again we bought nothing. Which became a reoccurring theme. The line for ice cream was way too long, and then we saw the prices so we left it. Same with the crepes.

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Even their thrift stores are beautifully and thoughtfully set out

We did find a shop called B-Side where Liz bought a whole bunch of stickers. They were so unique that it’s top of my shopping list for the next Japan trip – stickers from B-side.

The verdict on Harajuku? It was an experience, but nothing like what I expected. From reading the book as a teen, I really thought there would be streets of wild fashions and too-cool-for-school people. What I saw was a literal sea of people, overpriced desserts made for instagram and some cute hedgehogs. I would go back to Harajuku to buy stickers and leave.

This is not to say that I think everyone should not go, but I think everyone should go with measured expectations. And hit the side streets. Takeshita Dori will give you anxiety for weeks.

My 2020 Vision

It’s February. The new year new me posts should be over. But I haven’t written one yet so, there’s that.

2019 was very difficult for me. I won’t go into it, but it sucked. There was good too – got my brown belt, we met our beautiful Australian Kelpie Gigi, and we went to Japan. So maybe it wasn’t all bad. But it has been a catalyst for me to make some changes.

So 2019 was… okay

I feel like many people do right now, 2020 is the beginning of a new year and a new decade. It feels like the opportunity to do what we’ve always wanted to do and be what we’ve always wanted to be.

This year will see me continue what I’ve been doing, starting what I’ve always wanted and going back to some things that used to make me really happy.

So this year I am doing the following

1. Finishing that bloody Iron Man cross stitch! Honestly it has been going on for 5 years and I am over it. I have so many other projects I want to do but I ain’t no quitter!

2. Bust my karate up a notch. This is the year I get faster, better, stronger, seriously. It’s going to be a kickass year.

3. On top of that, get fit. I’m walked 10,000+ steps a day. I’m getting out and getting active. We’re doing it together, the kids are loving it. This is the year that I make my health my priority.

4. And I’m doing that by geocaching! I’ll write more about that later but this year I’m getting active and outdoors by finding Tupperware hidden in the bush and under park benches and all over the joint.

5. Study. I’m learning Japanese by practicing a little each day AND I’m going back to uni. It will keep me very busy but honestly I feel best when I’m learning.

Gigi the Geocaching Dog

There’s other things in the pipeline too but these are 5 things that I’m doing every day to keep my mental health in check. Stitch, karate, walking, geocaching, studying.

Because in 2019 I let my mental health wear down to the bare bones. I left the year frazzled, wired and on edge. I’ve cut back to 4 days a week at work to best manage my work life balance and spend more time with the kids.

So that’s my 2020 vision, now it’s out there in the universe so I need to make it my 2020 reality.

Spending the Day on Odaiba Island

On our last trip to Japan we had decided very early on that we would be visiting Tokyo’s most instagram-able spot – TeamLab Borderless. But we wanted to make a day of it. After all, it’s not every day you cross the Rainbow Bridge over to an artificial island created in 1850 so….

This is how we spent the day on Odaiba Island.

TeamLab Borderless

So knowing that popular attractions in Tokyo can get super busy super quick we headed here first. We had bought our tickets online via Klook, a relatively pain free experience and this allowed us to go straight in without waiting.

From the moment you arrive at TeamLab Borderless it is a completely immersive experience. It is full on in the most amazing of ways. Every room is different and there are hidden rooms as well.

The rooms change though some stay the same. If you’re into interactive art or just enjoy having your mind blown or if you want your Insta Game to be on Fleek – go here.

For the Gramz

I could honestly write a whole blog post just about TeamLab Borderless. Maybe I will.

VenusFort

Our next stop was right next door, VenusFort. This is a shopping mall featuring high end brands WAAAAAY above my price range.

But!

It had the most amazing ceiling that made me feel like I was in the Great Hall in Hogwarts while drinking my Cold Brew from Starbucks.

VenusFort

There is also a nice fountain. The whole place is like stepping into an enclosed European city. It’s an awesome spot.

DECKS

We went for a walk to DECKS, another shopping mall but this one featuring brands we can afford. And also featuring an amazing haunted house.

We paid our money and went round the back. We were handed a rope to hold onto and a red light torch. We were then lead through to the start of the maze. A video presentation told us that the principal of the schol (not school, I love Japanglish) had killed himself and the school was haunted. Our mission was to find his grave and tell him to Rest in Peace to rid the school of ghosts.

Well.

We start walking through and every rattle, every “ghost” made me jump and made the kids lose it. By the time we hit the grave the kids screamed Rest in Peace and ran out – terrified.

My husband walked out laughing. He says it was his favourite part of the whole holiday.

Also at DECKS is Legoland Discovery Centre (very overpriced, we gave it a miss) and Joypolis (same, overpirced and we gave it a miss). We did have a shop at Daiso though. And saw a monkey show.

Legoland Discovery Centre, Odaiba Island

Fuji TV

As Dragon Ball fans, a trip to Odaiba wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the FujiTV building. The view from the outdoor elevator alone was very cool but the gift shop was something else!

We then took a walk around the exhibit showcasing programming on the network. Now MOST of it wasn’t known to us but Monkey! And to see the costume. It said no photos but…

I took a photo anyway, oops
The outdoor elevator

DiverCity

Another shopping mall (sensing a theme?) but this one we went to for more than just shopping. After walking around a bit, it was nearing 5pm and time to see the Unicorn Gundam transform. It would have looked cool during the day but boy was it impressive at night!

There is lots more to do at Odaiba and we surely did not do or see it all. With two kids, the pace is sometimes slower and let’s be honest you could live in Tokyo all your life and not see it all.

We ate lunch in a food court and everyone just had whatever they fancied. We based most of our day on tips from this video by PaoloFromTokyo.

Akihabara – An Otaku Paradise

I wrote last week about Tokyo Disneyland and described it as The Happiest Place in Tokyo. And I stand by that, if you grew up watching Disney movies on a loop then you will LOVE Disneyland. But if you grew up with a Gameboy or PlayStation controller in one hand and a Nobuo Uematsu soundtrack blasting through your headphones – Akihabara will be an amazing mixture of nostalgia and pure joy.

Akihabara or Electric Town is a busy shopping hub featuring electronic goods, Otaku goods, Pachinko parlors and maid cafes. If you’re a bit nerdy, you’ll find something you love.

Most areas we went to in Tokyo we only spent a half day in at most but we went back to Akihabara at least 4 times.

So why did we fall in love with Akihabara? Let me share my top 5 places to visit there.

5. SquareEnix Cafe

Final Fantasy VII was my absolute favourite game as a kid. I’ve clocked it a whole bunch of times. I’ve got the new one on pre-order. I also played VI, VIII, IX, X, X-2….. But VII gives me all the warm and fuzzy nostalgic feelings. The story, the characters, the soundtrack, the blocky as graphics, it is my jam. So when I found out about SquareEnix Cafe – I had to go.

The first time we went they were actually fully booked, but it was 3pm on a Saturday so… rookie mistake. We went again at 9am on a Tuesday morning and got in right away.

The drinks were okay, the dumplings were delicious, the pancakes were nice but the sauce that came with them straight up tasted like grape Hubba Bubba and is incredible! The food was very pricey, so if you’re not a straight up SquareEnix fan I would grab a bite to eat somewhere else.

The purple sauce, it’s EVERYTHING

4. Yobadashi

So Yobadashi stores are every where in Japan, they’re huge department stores where you can buy anything from batteries to model trains to chopsticks to pianos – it has everything. It also has a restaurant in the basement and the toy floor is incredible.

If you’re tired from walking around all day you can sit in a massage chair for a free massage. If you’re shopping for a souvenir for someone and want to go beyond Daiso or Don Quijote, this is the place for you.

So many Stormtroopers in Yobadashi

3. Magikarp Taiyaki

Not a spot but this is pretty cool. Taiyaki is a common sweet snack in Japan shaped like a fish and filled with sweet red bean paste or anko. In Akihabara they are shaped like our favourite practically useless Pokemon.

It was super delicious and also came in chocolate for those not a fan of anko.

The packaging
Delicious Taiyaki

2. Super Potato

An absolute treasure trove of retro games and games consoles. Two floors of shopping and an arcade on the top floor. This is where we really spent our hard earned yen.

I picked up an incredible Game Boy Colour and a whole host of games. I could have bought the whole shop and we must have visited three times in a week.

I also got a top score on Tetris upstairs, winning (literally).

Super Potato
Tetris!

1. Shosen Book Tower

Remembering that this is my top 5, Shosen Book Tower to me is heaven on earth. Floor after floor of books and books and more books. As someone who is learning Japanese and well, loves books. This was always going to be my number 1.

I even scored a couple of textbooks for uni at a really reduced price which is a huge bonus.

The view from the top floor is incredible but be warned, that is where the adult books are so maybe don’t take kids up there.

And it’s all books!

There are lots of other things to do in Akihabara but these are my favourites. We didn’t do karaoke or maid cafes as we had the kids with us. There are some tourist traps as well, the dog cafe we went to didn’t make me feel super good.

There are a lot of food options in Akihabara but not a lot of vegetarian options so keep that in mind if you’re that way inclined.

There are lots of little shops and gatchapon spots dotted all over the place too.

We love Akihabara and will be looking for accommodation near there next time we visit Tokyo.

P.S I also came first at MarioKart in the SEGA building in Akihabara, never let that memory die.

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