Monday, May 23, 2016

A Birthday Party By An Unpinteresting Mum

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote was all about what an "unpinteresting" Mum I am. Here's the link if you haven't read it: When I wrote that, we were still living in Japan and I was still called Mom - but now, we're in New Zealand and I am Mum. Anyway, I digress.

While I admire all those crafty and organised Mums and Moms out there, I have to say, I am not very strong in either of those departments. We just threw my son his tenth birthday party yesterday, and I have to say, it went well. I was happy with it. I mean, it wasn't perfect, but the kids had a blast and it was easy for us. We had it at Inflatable World, a magical (I am being generous with my adjectives here) place where you can reserve a table for your party and the kids can literally go bounce off the walls for two hours. 

First things first, we've thrown parties like this before at bowling alleys and playland type places and one thing I noticed was that kids do not want to tear themselves away from the excitement to sit down for food. I thought about ordering pizzas, or having some sandwiches or something, but knew that the kids would probably randomly swing by, take a bite and toss the rest. Not providing food, of course, is not an option, so I made little snack packs. 

Nothing fancy - I just bought some little containers from the $2 Store (have I told you how much I love the $2 store?) and put snacks in there. I wanted to make it relatively "healthy," so I put raisins, granola bars, Grain Waves and one Chocolate Fish. I know that those things aren't 100% healthy and still contain sugar, but better than packs of m&ms, donuts, fizzy drinks - you get the idea. I wrote the child's name on the lid and that was that. This worked out perfectly - the kids stopped by the table, ate a little snack, had some water and went back to going bonkers in the play area. Half an hour before the end of party time, we did the cake, but the kids wanted to keep playing so they chose the takeaway (takeout, if you're American) option for the cake. By this time, their snack packs were empty - yay, instant takeaway boxes. I can't say that the cakes made it home, though. The kids gobbled their pieces up while waiting for their parents to pick them up.

We did have twelve kids to feed at the party and I knew the snack packs wouldn't cut it on their own, so I whipped up these awesome pizza scrolls. Now, I'm no Nigella Lawson or Martha Stewart, okay and I've never attempted to make anything with pastry, thinking it would be too complicated. It's not! These pizza scrolls were so easy to make! 
This is everything you need. 

1) Spread some flour over a clean surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry out into a rectangular shape, be careful not to make it too thin. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C, approximately 300 degrees F.

2) Spread an even layer of tomato paste on the pastry, right to the edges. Load it up with toppings of your choice. I kept it simple and only used cheese, mixed herbs and baby spinach leaves. 

3) Roll the whole thing up evenly, and slice thinly. 

4) Lay slices on an oven tray lined with baking paper, grill for about 10 minutes or so. Check frequently and take them out when it reaches the colour you like.

This recipe makes about 30, so I made two batches for the party. They were a total hit!
Now that I know how to make this, I am so going to go nuts with variations - including a sweet version using fruit. 

Feel free to comment or send me a PM with suggestions on how to milk this recipe for all it's worth!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hit "Pause"

"I'm going to kill you guys" is dramatic and harsh, so how can I rephrase this?

I wish I could pack a suitcase and escape. Not forever, just for a little while.

Yeah, that'd be great. I mean, I'd come back, eventually. Just don't poison my name while I'm gone. Just hit "pause" on me and go on with your lives. Nothing to see here. Just a woman having a temporary vacation from all responsibility.

For just a little while, I don't want to stop dead in my tracks and scan the crowd when I hear "Mum! Muuuuum!" even when it's not my own child's voice. I think I have a name, right? I seem to vaguely recall being called something else before I became a mother to these three gorgeous kids. Yes, I acknowledge the beauty and gloriousness I've created with their father, the love of my life, my husband. My man of 18 years, one month and three and a half weeks. Yes, I do love you too, dear. But honestly, for now, just for this one moment in time, I need to hit "pause."

If I get one more soul, bemoaning their fate, some circumstance (beyond my or anyone else's control) directing their frustrations at me like anything remotely like the following, I will scream. I will.

"Mum, I've been brainstorming ideas for my 15th birthday party. I thought of hiring a theatre, but there are no good movies showing. Like NONE."


"Mum, I want to get on my Xbox but you said I have to read for a while. But I did do some study games on the computer. I've done some spelling, so I shouldn't have to read an actual book."


"Mummy, I can't find my Scooby Doo. I put him in the backpack I insisted on carrying when you took us boys to the supermarket the day after fucking Easter Sunday, along with half of Auckland. Now he's gone - help me find him pleeeeeeeeeeease."


"You don't support my endeavours nearly as much as I support yours..." (while the smaller three intermittently inform me of other ways I'm failing them.)

The rice cooker's broken (which is a BIG DEAL because I am Asian) and I'm nursing the goddamn pot on the stove while simultaneously hanging the load of washing done by my washing machine which apparently can only be activated by my thumbprint, btw - cut to - me having my red wine (fuck my weekends only drinking rule. Today is a holiday, so technically, it's still the weekend) in the bedroom while ugly crying and fantasizing about what I'd do if I escaped for a while, consequence free.

1) Jump on a plane to hit Paris, New York, China, Iceland, Tokyo, Morocco, Rome and Greece to take photos for my coffee table books. (But man, just between you and me - I loathe flying so could something be done about that, please.)

2) Find myself in a rustic cabin - one side deep in the woods, the other, on a cliff overlooking a wild, open beach, waves a-crashing. The cabin would be stocked with wine, beer, coffee, chocolate, pretzels and cheese and crackers. I would alternate between reading by the roaring fireplace in my jammies and taking dips in the sea in my bikini, flaunting my taut body. Hey - this is my fantasy, remember? Anything is totes possible.

3) Traveling to all of my special besties - Denmark, New York, Colorado - to just hang and be privy to their day to day existence for a week or two.


After I spew all this inner dialogue onto paper, I could eat dinner with the family, three glasses of red in, listen to their stories and banter. After the meal, sit down to watch the shitty TV that is the Bachelor NZ and be content again.

Ugly crying does wonders, I guess.

So does wine.

Easter Monday counts as the weekend, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

School Life in Japan vs NZ

We are now officially a month into the new school year here in New Zealand. After a busy few weeks of getting organized and settled into the new classes, we had Parent - Teacher Conferences this week. My two boys are in primary school, so my husband and I met with their teachers yesterday for 10 minute sessions. It was really nice to get a chance to have a chat with them, but really - that's all it can be - a quick chat. There's no big lead up to the meeting - we had a talk with the boys about their goals and what they felt they needed to focus on in the classroom. Other than that, all we had to do was rock up to school. The meetings were over in a blur, which lead me to reflect on how different being a parent of school aged children in New Zealand is to being one in Japan.

There are so many formal aspects to education in Japan, there is always a ceremony happening for something. The beginning of the school year starts with an elaborate welcoming ceremony for the children starting Year 1. These are kids who are generally six years old, or close to it. They don't start at their fifth birthday like they do in New Zealand. The equivalent to the Parent - Teacher Conference is called katei houmon, which literally means "household visit." You guessed it, the parents don't go to the school, the teachers come to the home. They do these visits as a way to learn about the child and their living conditions, with their best interests at heart. This way, they get a little glimpse into how the child lives, where they do their homework, how they interact with their family - that sort of thing. About a month or two after school starts, depending on the number of students in the school, two weeks are set aside for these visits. During this period, school finishes just after lunch, around 12:30, and the teachers make their rounds to the family homes. I worked as an English teacher at 6 different primary schools over 7 years, so I was fortunate enough to witness this from my place in the staffroom and as a parent, on the receiving end. In Okinawa, not all of the little residential streets have names, so teachers would rely on maps drawn by the parents with only landmarks like "gas station" or "post office" to help them find their way. The streets were narrow, and the houses are close together with limited parking, so often, the teachers would go on foot. They'd dress up in their nice clothes, armed with notes on each child, and set out in the humidity. 

As a parent, getting prepared for the katei houmon was always a big deal. First, you clean, clean, clean. Making a good impression with your child's teacher is important, so a clean, welcoming home is a must. We lived in a very traditional setting, so we had a large coffee table with minimal furniture in the room, and we'd bring out the embroidered floor cushion for the teacher to sit on, as we didn't use sofas or chairs. I always made sure the air conditioning was blasting and offered an ice cold glass of jasmine tea to the teacher. Being new to all of this, I remember taking a bit of a poll prior to my first ever katei houmon. I asked my co-workers what they, as teachers, liked to be served to eat. Without a doubt - they all said that it was really hard to talk and eat whatever was offered. While it would be considered rude for them to not eat the food on offer, it was difficult as they'd have to visit anywhere between 5-8 houses a day and they couldn't keep up with the cakes, plates of sushi, fruit and sweets on the table. So what I did every single time - I had 8, total, in our years of living in Japan - was give them a little takeaway gift. I made up little gift bags of coffee or tea and some nice chocolate or biscuits that they could either take home to their kids or stash at work to have for their morning tea. So the teacher would come in, sip their tea and we'd have a lovely chat. The allotted time was 10-15 minutes, but more often than not, this stretched out to about 20-30 minutes. Some teachers told me that often, their last visit for the day, around 6:00, would end with them having dinner and a beer with the student's family.

The katei houmon was such a wonderful system - a chance for parents and teachers to get to know one other in a personal way. After all, what could be more personal than having your child's teacher in your home? This was especially true in Japan, as it's not as common to socialize in a person's home. Even close friends often meet at parks, beaches, restaurants or cafes, as Japanese homes can be quite small. So in some cases, teachers you barely know have been in your home before people you have known for years. 

Being a multi-cultural, English speaking family adjusting to life in NZ after eleven years in Okinawa is just bizarre. When we were living there, it was a challenge to stay on top of all the ins and outs of school in Japan. Just learning how to navigate my way through the paperwork and Japanese letters from school used to take me ages and I remember thinking how easy it would be if it were all in English but that hasn't been the case! There are so many experiences I face as a first time parent to kids in Kiwi schools that remind me I'm a novice all over again. It's challenging, but it keeps me on my toes and constantly reminds me that I don't know much about much - and that's ok. I feel so fortunate to get the chance to experience both sides of this. The downside is, I feel awkward a lot of the time - but that's ok, too.  :)