Monograms & Mountains

It’s almost Winter Vacation and we are off with The Cuties to New England for a week of fun: skiing, sledding, snowmobiling and more.  All that winter wonderland activity of course necessitates helmets and at the rate The Cuties have been growing it was time for a shopping trip.

And well I’ve never been one to spy a wide open surface and leave it alone now have I….

Thank goodness my daughters are my daughters and so when I proposed monogramming their ski helmets they were not only interested but excited and had opinions as to style, fonts and colors!  We even made sure to note where the goggle straps would hit so the monograms would still be visible when fully geared up!

So we got to work~

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Now I just have to decide what to put on my helmet and we’re ready to head to the mountain this weekend!

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Hanukkah House

In my continued quest to find small holiday projects we can do in our temporary housing, I set The Cuties up with a gingerbread house this weekend.

While I was thrilled to see this product for the first time ~

hanukkahhouse

The Cuties really wanted gingerbread and not vanilla cookies, so it was quickly vetoed.

I did not share with them that I had seen this product online and neglected to purchased it because well, let’s be honest, with a price tag of $50 it just wasn’t happening when I knew the Christmas gingerbread house kits were marked down to $7 at Michael’s already.  Sorry, kiddos.

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But I was inspired a bit.  So I purchased a regular gingerbread kit, a few packs of silver and blue Sixlets, some frosting in shades of blues and a bunch of Hanukkah gelt.

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And because The Cuties are older now, I totally let them go to town!

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I love that they even added a menorah in the window!

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And of course, The Cuties being MY daughters, felt it very important to add their monograms to their house.  Clearly, I would add my monogram to my roof if I could!

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Oh Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel!

I am so excited about my new Hanukkah wreath, I’m spinning in circles.

You know, like a dreidel.

Hardy har har.

I first thought of this idea while we were living in Tokyo, but knew it would be cost-prohibitive to ship the supplies to me in Japan and well, you know ~ there aren’t exactly a lot of local dreidel shops in Minami Azabu.

So now that we are back in America and Hanukkah is just around the corner, I knew this was the first crafting project I wanted to tackle.

So here’s what you need for this project!

A wreath form {I used a styrofoam one because it was cheap and the right size, but wrapped straw would work fine, too}, glue gun & glue sticks, ribbon {I bought mine at Michael’s on Black Friday for 70% off ~ how many of you were there scooping up rolls and rolls, too?}, and about 150 small dreidels!

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I loved the selection of metallic ones at ChocolateGelt.com and put together a custom order in royal blue, turquoise and silver.  Aren’t they so pretty?!!!

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I first wrapped the wreath in my ribbon.  This is an important step for two reasons: first, it covers the ugly green styrofoam and prevents it from showing on the project and second, it will give you a bit of a base so that the hot glue doesn’t melt the styrofoam.  I kept the ribbon on the roll as I wrapped it and used approximately 18 feet on my 14 inch form.

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Then I simply started hot gluing dreidels in a random fashion all around the wreath form.  I mixed colors, directions and of course letters on the dreidels!

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It took a while to cover the whole form, but this is an easy project to do while watching a movie or to work on a little bit at a time.

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All those dreidels make me so happy!

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And one more peek ~

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And because I over-ordered as always, I have plenty of leftover dreidels.  So now I’m wondering what else I can cover in tons and tons of dreidels!

Linked to:

Creative Jewish Mom, Nesting Place

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Pasta We’ve Been Missing

Every now and then there were recipes I found challenging to shop for ingredients in Tokyo.  Not because they contained anything that unusual, but more because of language barriers in getting exactly what I wanted, or seasonality issues.

And let’s be honest: constant access to sushi-grade fish at all times, can’t be beat, so why mess with a good thing, right?

But now that we’re back in America, and the weather has turned colder, I am craving a little comfort food.  In flipping through The Joy of Cooking {one of my favorite old stand-bys}, I was reminded of a recipe I have altered a bit.  It’s easy, it’s fast, and best of all, it’s seriously delicious!

Ingredients:

1 lb Orecchiette pasta, olive oil, crushed red pepper, 1-2 large heads of broccolini {roughly chopped}, 1 lb sausage {removed from the casing ~ I use a mild Italian sausage}, garlic, salt and pepper.

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Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil on medium heat and then brown your sausage.  Then add 1/4-1/8 tsp of crushed red pepper {depends on how hot you like things} and 3 minced garlic cloves and cook about a minute.  Remember, I use a ceramic grater instead of a press and it works great for this recipe ~ no chance of burning the garlic at all, and it will smell terrific as you cook it.  In fact, The Cuties came running into the kitchen just about this point in the night!

While you’re doing this, bring your water to a boil and start cooking the orecchiette.

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Add your broccolini and cover until cooked and tender.

This takes just about the same amount of time to cook as the pasta.  Once you’ve drained the pasta, put it back into the pot, and add the sausage and broccolini mixture and stir.  Cook together about another minute or two.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve topped with parmesan if you like.

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The Cuties are notoriously pretty great eaters, but I seriously can’t remember the last time they hopped up on their own accord and helped themselves to seconds and thirds!

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I Miss Japan, But…..

We’ve arrived in Connecticut and survived jet lag and starting at two new schools and settling into our little temporary apartment all in one week.

We all miss Tokyo quite a bit and are suffering some “re-entry” issues, but have started to notice a few things here in America that are pretty nice after three years in Japan….

We arrived just in time to catch the end of fall foliage, which while a big deal in Japan, ROCKS in New England.  My drive to school for The Cuties in the morning takes me down a winding lane around a reservoir.  Even The Cuties commented bright and early one morning how amazingly beautiful it was to see.

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{photo credit: drivenct.com}

We had a family fun night this week that included dinner out – no requesting an English menu necessary, no relying on picture menus and no struggling through katakana!  We then went to the movies, where everything was in English, and everything was a first run movie {of course, we still opted for Big Hero 6, which we could have seen in Japan now, LOL!}

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I bought seedless grapes at the grocery store.  Yes, grapes.  Where to start?  For starters, grapes in Japan that are labeled seedless aren’t always so….

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And that price?  That’s for about eight grapes!  I kid you not.

But I’ve been buying a big bag of organic grapes at Whole Foods for about $5.  Score.

And of course, the mother load of Expat shopping…

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The first three days in our apartment we went so often and spent so much our credit card started calling!  Thank goodness there’s no room in our tiny little place for craft supplies or I’d be living at Michael’s, too!😉

So we’re finding our way, little by little.

The air shipment arrives in a couple of hours and that should make us feel that much more at home as we remind ourselves that home is wherever the four of us are together.

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Bat Mitzvahpalooza

So for months I’ve been referencing Bat Mitzvah projects for Big Cutie that I wasn’t yet ready to share.  Well the big day has come and gone and was everything I imagined as a Mom and more.  We were blessed to have an abundance of friends and family make the trip from America to celebrate with us here in Tokyo which meant we had a week of celebrating, sightseeing, and of course, food!

And it was spectacular.

I knew Big Cutie was prepared.  She’d diligently studied with little to no prompting for the past year, including waking up early many mornings in Kiawah to Skype with the Rabbi back in Tokyo due to the time difference.  But her poise and confidence on the bima literally took my breath away that evening.

I could go on and on.

But, let’s get to the crafty, party-planning stuff because that’s what this blog is about😉

{photos courtesy of 37 Frames}

In this digital age, I still felt strongly about sending out a paper invitation.  Big Cutie and I love to peruse stationery stores, and I’ve talked before about how we still send out invitations to almost all events.  I will admit I was surprised at how challenging it was to find what we were looking for ~ we wanted something very girly and appropriate for a 13-year-old, feminine and that also incorporated Big Cutie’s favorite color, turquoise.  Everything was too young or too sophisticated until we stumbled upon perfection at Just Invite Me .  Amber was lovely to work with, and readily turned the Adele Glitter Suite into a Bat Mitzvah invitation for us.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

Since we had so many out of towners, we really wanted to welcome them in style.  We created hotel welcome bags filled with subway maps, itineraries for the weekend, lots of snacks to help stave off late night munchies when suffering from jet lag and more.  Our favorite item in the bags were “survival kits,” containing band aids, Advil, Altoids, Tums, Shout wipes and tissues.

I found the perfect assortment of labels and tags at Evermine that I was able to customize in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes for a cohesive look at a very reasonable price.

labelsOne of my favorite projects for Big Cutie was the tallit bag I needle pointed for her.  I carried it with me on the subway, to volunteer meetings, and to several different countries in my attempt to finish in time to send it to the seamstress.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

We had a great afternoon in Skokie, Illinois last May selecting her tallit at Hamakor and my dear friend Lynn of Kanoa Pure Silver worked with me to design one-of-a-kind silver tallit clips with a sakura image.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

Finally, our last serious shopping was clothing for all of us, but especially for the Bat Mitzvah girl.

It took more legwork than I anticipated, but we finally found the perfect dress for her at Radical Rags in Mount Pleasant, SC.  They were so very helpful, and even ended up ordering us a few different dresses in different colors for Big Cutie to pick from with no obligation ~ isn’t that phenomenal customer service!  The Dress was from Stella M’Lia, who designs specifically for tweens and teens.

We found great formal shoes at the Saks Fifth Avenue outlet and then I blinged up some Converse for her to wear at the reception with mini crystals.

clothes

Now on to the party!

Our reception was held at the Decanter Restaurant in the Tokyo American Club.  We loved the set up of the restaurant and the color scheme was perfect for a party for a teenager.

Our guests arrived at the restaurant up an elevator and as the elevators opened a table was set with multiple trays of place cards.  These were made by cutting out card stock shapes with my Silhouette machine and writing names with a white Uni-ball gel pen.  I then attached a bamboo skewer to the back with clear tape and stuck the skewer into a Ferrero Rocher candy.  The candies were set into lucite trays filled with sparkly, purple crushed glass vase filler {I used a small gold dot sticker to indicate vegetarian meals}.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

The adults sat in the main dining room, where the pink velvet chairs and eggplant tufted banquettes complimented the peacock colors of Big Cutie’s theme.  The beautiful flowers were done by Bloom and Stripes here in Tokyo.  I printed menu cards on cover weight stock paper from Paper Source and rounded the edges with a corner punch, and a peacock feather was added at each setting.  I made the table numbers by painting inexpensive plain wood frames from Michael’s with glitter paint.

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The teenagers all sat together in what is usually the restaurant’s bar.  They sat at high top tables, decorated with sequined table runners and cups of rock candy instead of flowers.  The favors served as place cards and were personalized L.L.Bean tote bags, tied to the backs of each chair with a tag saying “Leah’s Bat Mitzvah ~ It was totes fun!”   At the end of the evening, the wait staff gathered the rock candy in cellophane bags and dropped them into the tote bags for the kids to bring home.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

The kids had their own mocktails and kid-friendly appetizers on the terrace off their private seating area, which was decorated with custom pillows.  These were made with inexpensive plain covers and inserts from Ikea and Silhouette heat transfer material.

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On the dance floor there were Mardi Gras beads, metallic top hats and plenty of glow sticks for the kids.  As the girls’ feet became tired there were custom socks they could take home with them, too. {we provided mini packs of ear plugs for adults since we know the kids like the music loud and it’s some times a bit much for the older crowd}

dance

In lieu of a sign-in book, I painted a chair that will become Big Cutie’s desk chair back in America.  The back rungs have her name in English and Hebrew and the date and we had it out for everyone to sign throughout the night.  We then used this chair to lift her and the rest of the family as we dance the hora.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

{check out how we blinged her WalkAid to match her dress!}

There were two other special things we wanted to include for the night ~

One was a birthday cake because Big Cutie’s Bat Mitzvah fell on her actual 13th birthday.  So everyone sang Happy Birthday to her and Yuka at Cookie Hound made her a delicious and beautiful cake.  Check out that hand-painted peacock!

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

The final thing was that we all wanted a large-scale photo booth.  Our amazing photographers, Dee & Tracey offered a fabulous sequined backdrop and together we came up with some very fun props.  I found plain chalkboard thought-bubble signs and painted both sides for a variety of options in addition to the mustaches, lips and glasses.  The prop chalkboard sign {like the lounge sign} was made with my Silhouette machine and vinyl.

Leah's Bat Mitzvah. October 18, 2014. Tokyo.

And there you have it!

The ceremony was inspiring, we were surrounded by people who mean the world to us and the party was a labor of love.  I can’t remember the last time I smiled so much!

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To Japan, With Love, Part Two

So the packers are here.

And just like that, our home in Tokyo is becoming bare and generic and filled with boxes and suitcases and all the undeniable signs that we really and truly are getting on the plane and flying fourteen hours back to America on a one-way ticket.

{and here’s where I had to pause from writing because I started crying again}

There are so many things that have made our time in Japan amazing but the most lovely part about it for me has been the friends I’ve made.

We’ve moved many times back in America.  I’ve always met terrific people, and have many wonderful friends.  But it’s been different this time.

When you move to a new city in America, you meet people slowly and fit into a community that already exists.  You join into existing book clubs, teams, and supper clubs.  It’s all really nice and enjoyable.

But Tokyo.  It’s a whole other world.  We landed on a Sunday, and orientation at school was Monday.  I remember feeling completely panicked when emergency contact cards were passed around to place in The Cuties’ backpacks for the hour bus ride to school and back.  Not only did I not know anyone to list for school to call in case they couldn’t reach me, I didn’t know my own phone number!  And yet, the next day at the bus stop, I met some parents.  Who were all in the same boat.  And we laughed about it.  And the Mom who introduced herself who lived in the building next door, gave me her phone number, told me to feel free to use her as an emergency number and invited me to go with her to Starbucks and Costco the next day.  And just like that, I knew it would all be OK.

See, I was up for the adventures.  The snow festivals, the tea ceremonies, the shrines, the sumi-e classes, the traveling throughout Asia.  What terrified me was everyday, simple Mom life and finding my people.

I wanted to run into friends at the grocery store, join the PTA, flip latkes at Hanukkah, go to lunch, and have an occasional glass of wine at a girls night out.

And my sadness at leaving Tokyo?  Well some of it is the sheer beauty that is Japan.  The things that are interesting, and unique and fascinating.  But really, it’s about my girls.

Three years have felt like a lifetime.

It’s leaving my girls.

In the blink of an eye, we bonded over common language, our embarrassing moments, being strangers in a strange land, shared our life stories, and made memories together.

They’re the best.

In fact, I’d call them my light.

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And I will think of them with love every time I light my amazing lantern they gave me as a sayonara gift.

Ja mata my dears.

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