Sometimes when I scour the internet to find books on certain themes for my daughter Lillian, I never quite find what I’m looking for. In fact, I often come across books by chance after all my searching just walking through the library or the store. In case you’re sometimes doing similar investigating, I decided to start a series on books that Lillian is reading lately from her bookshelf at home or from the library. Today I’d like to share three really wonderful books on the seasons.
- Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
This delightful picture book starts and ends in winter time, transitioning through the seasons on each page, alternating with scenes indoors and outdoors. There are endless details to point out on each page, from the fun the boy has inside (like hanging up pictures, making sailboats, or reading books under a little teepee), to his outside projects (like building snowmen, planting a garden or making a tree house). My daughter just loves listening to me point out things, and she also likes the little peek-a-boo cuts on each page that give a glimpse into something on the previous and next page.
- I am a Bunny by Richard Scarry
In this book, you’ll follow the bunny Nicholas as he tells you his favorite things to do in each season. My favorite thing about this book is the beautiful and detailed illustrations. Though less jam-packed with things to point out than Inside Outside, there is still plenty to talk about while you enjoy the rich illustrations with your child. You can count the butterflies Nicholas tries catching in the spring, see a jumping frog and dewdrops in the summer, spot all the colors in the falling leaves in the autumn, spot Nicholas’ snow tracks leading back to his hollow tree home in the winter and more.
- Baby Loves Summer! by Karen Katz
For the last book, I’d actually like to recommend a small series of books by Karen Katz. These four lift-the-flaps books go through the seasons joyfully as you turn each page (and lift each flap) to discover the fun each season has to offer. These books are really great to read during each season because they have so many things you can point out to your child when you go outdoors (butterflies and tulips in the spring, the big yellow sunshine in the summer, yummy apple pie in the fall and a snowman in the winter, etc). Lily and I have a lot of fun reading these books together!I hope you found some books on seasons that you haven’t read before with your child, and would love to hear any favorites your family has (about seasons or in general!). If you have any suggestions for future themes, please leave a comment, too!
Can we please talk for just a minute about Kara Hanes Photography? (Oh, and would you also like to take a look at my beautiful daughter?) Just two days before Lillian’s first birthday (and the day before her party), we had a Cake Smash Photo Session with Kara. As always, we were welcomed into Kara’s studio feeling comfortable and ready to have fun. We took guesses: would Lillian destroy the lovely pink cake and become painted in frosting? Or would she ignore the cake completely and try to race off–tutu bobbing as she crawled to whatever else she could get her hands on? Before finding out for sure, Kara took some really darling shots of Lillian on a couple of Kara’s beautiful studio backdrops.
Are you not just squealing at the cuteness here!? After shots like these we almost felt like we didn’t need to even mess around with the cake, but we knew it was important to settle the debate once and for all: what would this cute baby do when presented with cake?
And the answer issssssss: she took a lot of coaxing to get messy! She just sort of touched the cake gently at first, and then–after it didn’t peak her interest further–was ready to go explore elsewhere! Did Kara care? Of course not! She just kept up her playful attitude, chatting with Lillian and guiding Chad and I with ways to move Lily around the set. We even tried to tell Lily “NO!” to see if she would suddenly feel more inspired to touch something she shouldn’t!
Eventually, as you can see above, Lily did get into the cake, and it was pretty darned cute. The photo shoot was full of so much laughter (and frosting!). Kara was able to capture Lillian’s happy spirit, but also the pure sweetness of her, too, as pictured below.
I can’t say I’ve ever looked that beautiful after stuffing my face with cake…
As with our family photos, these pictures of Lillian are true treasures. We feel so lucky to have a family photographer who is genuine, playful, and who makes everyone feel relaxed. Though Kara has a lot of experience, she still approaches each photo session in a way that makes you know she cares about capturing your story–a story that is uniquely yours. I truly cannot recommend her enough, and hope that even if you’re not currently in need of a photographer that you go look at her gorgeous website and blog! (Oh, and side note: if you are in need of a photographer, Kara is currently offering a deal on studio sessions through February 29th!)
Have you ever witnessed a baby’s cake smash? What kind of cake would you smash into, if given the choice?
Sometimes you learn that super cool places exist right in your own area after months of living there and not knowing about them. We discovered such a place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, yesterday after receiving a very special gift for Lillian. The place is called Uncle Goose, and the gift was a set of beautiful Japanese blocks.
These blocks are just awesome. They include bits of all three systems of writing in Japanese as well as English translations. There are animals on one side of each block, and on another side there is a chrysanthemum pattern from a fabric designed in the 1800’s. The blocks not only look beautiful, but they feel pleasing to hold as well. Moreover, they are responsibly and sustainably made, and are printed using child-safe inks so I don’t have to worry about them going in Lily’s mouth.
I was so shocked that it is possible to find blocks that have Japanese and English on them handmade in the states, let alone in West Michigan, but Uncle Goose actually makes sets of blocks in many languages, ranging from Korean to Polish (23 languages are available total, to date!). They also craft other wonderful sets, like one with bugs and another with nursery rhymes (I’d love to get those for Lillian one day, too!).
Lillian’s gift of Uncle Goose blocks will be a treasure for years to come. Chad seems to think they are a sign we should actively teach Japanese to Lillian and then move back to Japan, but I’m not so sure about all of that 😉 Anyway, Uncle Goose is based in Grand Rapids but sells their blocks in 6 out of 7 continents worldwide. Check out their website and drool over these blocks (like I mentioned, you can literally drool over them and you’ll be a-okay!).
Have you found any fun places in your area lately? Thanks for letting me share!
Years ago when we got married, one thing we decided we would pay a little extra for was our wedding photography. After hearing a lot of stories from people who had negative experiences, we wanted to have a good one. The photographer we chose did take some nice photos, but we didn’t actually get our prints–let alone see very many of the digital ones–for SIX MONTHS. Even years ago that was a bit unheard of. Our photographer also lost the receipt of the package we purchased from her and tried to give us her smallest package (luckily I had kept my copy!), among other things.
Fortunately for us, we also had our good friend Kara Hanes at the wedding, who happened to shoot a few photos of her own. Still today, some of the pictures she took from our wedding are my favorite because she got some really nice candid shots. That’s why I was super excited when we got the chance to have our family pictures taken with her in August, all these years later.
I absolutely love the way the pictures of Lillian turned out, though I’m obviously a little biased on the subject! Here’s the thing though: despite it being a summer day, it was really cold and–especially on the beach–windy! But Kara still managed to get smiles out of Lillian (who was grumpy on top of being cold that day!). Lillian just loves Kara, and it’s easy to see why. Kara not only has confidence and talent, but also a way of making you feel relaxed and at ease. She was playful with Lillian, but made us laugh, too. And she didn’t even blink an eye when we had a crazy wardrobe issue in the woods when Lillian suddenly got hungry (let’s just say any passersby would’ve been met with quite the scene!). Kara can take lovely staged photos, but she also is great at capturing candid moments. The family photos she took for us are treasures to me, and I got to see them not six months later, but within days (some of them that very same night!).
Thank you for letting me show off my family, and for letting me share what a great experience we had (and always have) with Kara. Even if you’re not in need of a photographer at the moment, you should check out more of her work on her website, and also check out her engaging and fun Instagram and blog!
Ever since we heard the news about Tsuta Ramen shop receiving a Michelin Star, we knew we had to give it a try. Our first attempt was one Friday after work, when we learned that the shop closes at 4:00 PM. Yeah, what? Chad called to confirm the shop was really already closed for the night to learn that not only are the hours incredibly limited (11:00 AM-4:00 PM), but that you have to get a placeholder ticket by 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning in order to get a bowl as well.
Last Monday, Chad decided to take off the upcoming Wednesday from work to surprise me and go with me to Tsuta during the limited open hours. Much to our dismay, after getting the day-off request approved, he discovered Tsuta is closed on Wednesdays! Strike two!
Fortunately for us, now Chad is on vacation, so yesterday (Tuesday) we were able to scurry down toward Sugamo Station to get a ticket from Tsuta. We got there around 10:15, and were able to get tickets to reserve a spot for eating around 3:00. Unfortunately, all that was on offer for the day was Tsuta’s miso ramen, which I was especially bummed about because I tend to go for shoyu (soy based) or shio (salt based) ramen. Of course, that didn’t change our minds about giving the shop a try!
Approaching the shop, you are greeted with several signs explaining the placeholder tickets. The tickets are color-coded, and the time you arrive to get a ticket determines the time you can come back to eat.
If you’re on a Tsuta ramen mission, don’t go sit in line to get your placeholder ticket! Open the door to talk to someone–if there is a line of people outside, they are already waiting for their dining time slot!
You are advised to arrive a half an hour or so before your time slot, and if you miss your time or lose your ticket, you forfeit the 1000 yen deposit you give for your placeholder ticket.
Once we got our placeholder tickets, we had to decide how to spend the next several hours. We came up with a few really nice ideas, which I’ll share in a future post. For now, the important thing to know is that if you’re in town to try Tsuta ramen, you really have to plan a day around it. We recommend going to the shop for a placeholder ticket around 7:30 or 8:00 AM to ensure you can have a bigger selection of ramen dishes, and so that you can get a more convenient time than we did. Around 2:15 or so we came back to Tsuta Ramen and joined a line of several other customers. We slowly moved forward in the queue until we were welcomed inside and given our deposits back so we could chose our ramen. We had three choices: normal miso ramen, miso ramen with egg, and miso ramen with extra chicken. We chose the latter two options (which came to exactly 2000 yen total), and then continued to wait in the indoor line for seats to open up. We were pretty excited when our ramen was served. We were ready for new flavors–we’d never had chickpeas, sliced onions or chicken in our ramen before. A good egg is usually a huge indication of my overall rating when it comes to ramen: it shouldn’t be completely hard boiled, but the yolk should be slightly cooked. My egg was spot-on. I liked the noodles, too, but sometimes the texture was a little grainy for me. I couldn’t tell whether that sensation was from the soba noodles themselves, or from the noodles being coated in miso broth. The ramen didn’t disappoint, but I would personally like to go back and try a bowl of the shoyu ramen.
Tsuta’s miso ramen is not my favorite ramen in Japan, but that could just be due to my lack of enthusiasm for miso based-ramen. Chad was quite impressed, so we’ll have to do some future investigation next time we can plan around Tsuta’s rather inconvenient hours. Either way, I’m glad we got a chance to try it! For information on hours and days in which Tsuta is open, click here.
I recently came across an interesting drink in the supermarket called Basil Seed Drink with honey. There were a few other varieties of the drink aside from the honey-flavored one I chose, but honey seemed most likely to be tasty, so that’s what I went with.This drink actually originated in Thailand, and I have read online that it is available in some stores in the states, too.
The texture of the drink is sort of a thin, syrupy consistency that leaves legs on a glass but still has a light mouth-feel. The flavor reminds me vaguely of lemon iced tea with honey and jojoba. The basil seeds (lending the jojoba feel to the drink) will crunch slightly if you happen to catch them between your teeth, and though the sensation isn’t altogether unpleasant, I’d rather just swallow them. Apparently basil seeds are supposed to be quite healthy for you, and when used in a drink, they even promote weight loss because they expand to make the drink seem more filling. You can even find articles comparing and contrasting them with chia seeds. I totally didn’t buy the drink with any of that business in mind, but the flavor did seem healthy in a way. I think it could be refreshing in the summer time if I’m just a little hungry but not yet ready for a meal.
Have you, or would you, try a Basil Seed drink? There are tons of DIY recipes to make your own!
I couldn’t help but try the Chocolate Orange Mocha when I stumbled across it in Japan. As far as I know, this flavor isn’t offered in the states–at the very least not in Michigan, so I decided to share about the beverage here 🙂
I got a tall size of the hot version of the Chocolate Orange Mocha, and it wasn’t too bad. A barista told me that they use mocha, orange syrup, espresso, steamed milk, orange-infused whipped cream, mocha again on top, and orange sprinkles. One of my former coworkers (here’s looking at you, Dona!) would kill me for saying this, but the orange sprinkles SERIOUSLY tasted like Fruity Pebbles cereal. I’ve got Chad to back me up on that. To be honest, the whole Fruity Pebble flavor going on with those sprinkles didn’t really do much for me, though otherwise the beverage tasted like a lightly sweetened hot chocolate with the slightest hint of orange. It almost felt like less pumps of mocha than standard were used, though I never put full pumps in my beverages anyway.
I’d have to say the beverage, for me, was sort of take it or leave it, but I definitely will be visiting the same Starbucks location again. After all, I got to meet a Japanese coffee master there, and the partners were all really friendly.
Have you tried any fun beverages lately?
Guest author: Ariel Knapp
While Chad and Caitlyn are making their way to Japan (safe travels you two!) I thought it would be a good time for a book review.
The Men Who United the States by Simon Winchester
This book took forever for me to get through and I am very glad I’m done. I read The Professor and the Madman by Winchester years ago and enjoyed it. I thought the subject was interesting and well written and that made me want to read other books by Winchester. Unfortunately, the subject matter of The Men Who United the States has never appealed to me so it was difficult to get through. If you like American history and want to read about Lewis and Clark, canal building, transcontinental railroads, and the invention of electricity then I think this would be a good book for you. Otherwise, you might want to skip this one.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Before this book the only Murakami book I read was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running a nonfiction book about his experience with running. I enjoyed that book and when Caitlyn told me she and a friend were reading Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki… for their book club I though I’d read it too. Murakami goes into great detail about character personality and appearance as well as scene description, which I appreciated because I think it added a lot to the story.
Austenland by Shannon Hale
This book was made into a movie. I watched the movie first because I had no idea it was a book. While the book was a light read and I liked it, I thought the movie captured the comedy of the story a lot better. The book is a bout Jane who is obsessed with Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. She takes a trip to Austenland, a themed destination vacation where people experience Jane Austen’s world complete with period costumes and activities. If you have to make a choice between watching the movie and reading the book, I think this is one of those rare occasions when the movie is better.
Have you read any good books lately? What do you do when you start a book and don’t like it? Do you finish the book anyway or do stop reading and move on to the next book?
Recently I came across the website My Cents of Style, and was excited to see they offer state pendant necklaces. As we get closer to moving back to Japan, little trinkets that remind me of home become that much more special. That being said, I still wasn’t sure I could pay the list price of $24.95 for the Michigan pendant necklace, but then I noticed there was a half-off sale going on the necklaces for a limited time! At about $12, I figured I’d be getting the pretty little necklace at a steal. When my necklace arrived, I was excited to open the cute envelope packaging.The first thing I noticed about the necklace itself was that it wasn’t so little–just the pendant was over an inch (about 3 cm) long. I didn’t really mind the size so much, but what I did mind was that it was brushed silver. Now, to be fair, the website states that the necklaces are brushed silver. However, my lack of jewelry experience and the original price led me to believe the necklace was still silver, but with a brushed appearance. Sadly, I was wrong. I know some people like the faux brushed silver look, but to me it just looked cheap and fake. It’s a little hard to see what I mean in the picture because of the lighting, so on the bright side I think maybe it would be difficult for anyone looking at a bit of a distance to see what is lacking in overall appearance, too.Despite feeling a little disappointed, I was ready to let go of my expectations, deciding to wear the necklace anyway. I gently pulled open the bottom of the plastic bag in which the necklace was wrapped and–WHAT!? The little brushed “gold” heart fell right off! What a bummer! Of course, I have some jewelry-making supplies I can use to try and reattach the heart, but that will take unpacking some things as well as time that should have been spent showing off my new necklace rather than repairing it.
Overall, I would never pay full price on the website for this necklace. (To be honest, I am quite disappointed even with the discounted price!) Despite any misgivings I have from my experience with the state pendant necklace, my understanding from reading some other reviews online is that other products on My Cents of Style are fabulous, especially for the price. I don’t think I’ll give up on them entirely just yet, though I don’t know that I’ll necessarily be ordering from them again any time soon!
What do you think? Have you ever tried out a bargain deal? How did your experience compare to mine?
Gazing across the bars of chocolate in my local supermarket, I noticed quite a few bars I hadn’t seen before. It was exciting for me to see so much quality chocolate available, and I decided to choose a new kind to try! Although it was tough to decide between several appealing bars, this time I chose Theo Organic Fair Trade Coconut 70% Dark Chocolate. Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard anything about Theo Chocolate before coming across it in the candy aisle. However, I loved the simple packaging, the Fair Trade Label (among others) posted along the bottom, and the thought of coconut playing a role in the chocolate bar. Every time I try chocolate (whether it’s for the first time or what feels like the hundredth), I always begin by smelling it. As you would expect, this bar of chocolate smelled very much like dark cocoa with just a hint of sweetness. I couldn’t taste the coconut when I took a bite, but the coconut definitely contributed to the overall texture of the bar. Unlike bars that have crunchy nuts or soft dried fruit, the coconut in this Theo bar adds a texture in between the range of crunchy and soft. And although the coconut flavor isn’t especially pronounced, it seems to add a bit of toasty sweetness to the bar that breaks up what could otherwise almost be an overwhelming amount of dark chocolate. I would be interested in pairing the chocolate with coconut water to see if the coconut notes would become more perceptible. After trying Theo chocolate, I visited their website and decided I LOVE THEM. Here’s why: Theo Chocolate is passionate about the journey from bean to bar (and you know how passionate I am when it come to coffee and its journey from bean to cup!). On their fact sheet, Theo Chocolate touts that “Theo is founded on the belief that there is a common thread that binds us, from the cocoa farmer to the chocolate lover, and [they’re] devoted to making our world a better place.” YES!
The fact sheet also states that Theo Chocolate is the first and only bean to bar maker of Organic, Fair Trade, Fair for Life and Non-GMO Project verified chocolate in North America. That’s a reason to try Theo Chocolate if there ever was one, if you ask me! I am looking forward to trying out other flavors of Theo Chocolate in the future.