There seems to be a lot of preparations to make before we fly off to Japan, especially since we are bringing small children.

Being a typical mom, my first and utmost concern is whether the kids will be warm enough in the cold weather. Will it snow? Have we bought enough winter clothing to protect them from the cold? What creams should I get so our family will not suffer from dry and cracked skins in the freezing temperature? Will they be able to journey on foot or do we have to bring their stroller? Should we get them flu shots before the trip?

Secondly, my concern is on our budget. Are we bringing enough cash? Do we have to standby our credit card? Can we withdraw money using foreign ATM machine there? Do we have to bring instant food to save on dine-out / take-away? Will I have enough cash to bring back souvenirs for our family since Japanese retailers largely don't accept credit cards?

Lastly, I am contemplating on the luggage to bring - should I get a bigger suitcase for all our stuffs so we don't have to carry too many bags? (Already our winter clothes are taking up space in one cabin-size suitcase, leaving us with only one other cabin luggage to stuff our everyday items, toiletries, shoes etc.). Will our baggage allowance be enough or do we have to buy more?

I like to take things in stride, so I think of these as part of the excitement of our trip - so many things to get ready before our trip, yippee!

Of course, the first thing to do is to do some shopping (I know I will cry buckets when I see my account balance and credit card bills once we return from our trip!). Despite my research earlier, it is still a challenge to get good quality winter jackets at affordable price and the right size, not to mention that Khadeeja refuses to wear anything other than pink, which sadly most her size have already sold out!

Luckily my friend advised me that winter jackets for kids in Japan is aplenty and the best part is, it's half the price sold here! So we are postponing the shopping till we get there (too bad I had bought mine and Khayla's here!)

Some of the winter clothes we managed to get at Uniqlo, Universal Traveller & Winter Time
Then we moved on to moisturizers. Being a first-time winter traveller (if there's such term), it didn't occur to me at first to get special moisturizer. My ex-boss happened to mention that winter will cause skin to dry and get really itchy so moisturizer is a must! 

We can get good moisturizer at any good pharmacies but I decided to get ours at Sephora since I need to get a few makeup items as well (I left my makeup kit at home!).

For facial cream and lip balm (super important since our faces will be the most exposed to the elements in Japan), I bought Burts' Bees day cream and lip balm. I like the lip balm which is not too 'heavy' and has nice color, but my worry is its performance in cold weather - I sure hope the balm will protect us from chapped lips!

The facial moisturizer is another thing though. It is really thick and slightly difficult to apply due to its 'heavy' texture. But I believe it is suitable for the harsh weather later on.

When buying the body moisturizer, I opt for a cream that is suitable for dry skin and has both skin repair & protect functions. Khayla has tendency to get really itchy if her skins get dry and most likely will suffer from cracked skin, so protection is a must!

Since I'll be using these items in-flight, I got all of them in travel size so I can check them on-board

We also decided to bring a bigger luggage on top of our a cabin size luggage - this way we can make do with only one checked-in luggage for the four of us with enough storage space for souvenirs when we fly back. 

Furthermore, if our bag got misplaced, we'll still have spare clothes once we reach Japan. Good thing is we get a really light-weight 28" Hush Puppies bag at 50% off, which is the same price as our cabin size Samsonite bag!

Lastly, we are also bringing instant food so we can save up $$ on food - thank you Maggi, Brahim's, Mak Nyonya and whatnots for these products!

Instant food rations

Not to forget, our medicines just in case anyone of us falls sick (God forbids). The must-have is paracetamol, flu & cough meds, suppository (for fast relief of high temperature) and inhaler. 

After all shopping was settled, we hunted for moneychanger outlets with the lowest exchange rate. My advice is not to exchange currencies at the airport since the rate is higher. 

We found that moneychangers at Masjid India Street offer the best rates so far. The problem is they keep limited Japanese Yen (in terms of amount and the currency notes - only selling 10,000¥ notes and nothing lower than that) so we had to change at two moneychangers and even had to go back the next day to check if they still have Yen to trade for RM!

Exchanged this note for 100¥=3.55, where else other places selling this at 3.6+ and in KLIA, at 3.8+

Just in case the cash we bring is insufficient, I'm planning to call the bank to inform them that I'll be using their credit facilities abroad. This is just an extra precaution if you are worried that the credit card will not work outside of Malaysia (although my bank website states that it's not necessary to inform). Also, if you plan to withdraw cash from ATM machine abroad, you must activate your ATM card through online banking. Important, in case you lost your money!

I'll try to list down our expenditure for this trip (with clothes being the highest cost so far!) in my next posting. I'll probably faint right away! T_T

My friend, Aini told me that Osaka is a very beautiful city, so I can't wait to find out for myself. Since Japan is a very expensive country to go, we have to plan our trip itinerary carefully to avoid going overboard where budget is concerned. Why? Because transportation cost is quite high, and unlike in Malaysia, Japan has a lot of private railways and their travel pass options can be mind-boggling too!

So depending on our itinerary, the travel pass should only cover the places we want to go or it will be under-utilized. We also have to decide the period of the travel and compare between the daily and the certain period travel passes (e.g. 2, 3, 4 and up to 7 days railway pass with different range of price, of course) to decide which one is more cost-effective. It could even be a combination of both! *dizzy!*

Like I previously mentioned, Japan was totally out of my radar, so I had no inklings of tourist attractions in Osaka. Heck, I didn't even know that Japan's Universal Studios are in Osaka, I thought it is in Tokyo! That to sum up how much ignorant I am about Japan.

Luckily, in this Internet age, information is abundant - all we need is to Google it up. Furthermore, Japan Tourism makes it easy for would-be tourists to do their research before their trip. I stumble upon which gives very useful info for would-be tourists like me:

Many useful info can be found here
Much of our itinerary covers places outside of Osaka since we'll be staying in Fukui for the first few days (where my sister is currently studying & living). However, once we are in Osaka, we are planning to go to these two places:

1. Osaka Castle
The photo shown in the website snapshot above is Osaka Castle during winter. A lot of websites and blogs say that this is a must-visit place, so visit we must. 
Admission fee (to the museum): 600¥ / adult (below 15yo is free), total budget for 3pax: 1800¥
Stop: Osaka Station (JR Osaka Loop Line)

Note: Not sure whether we want to go into the museum... I was thinking of just taking photos from the outside of the castle or the castle ground (Osaka Castle Park). I don't want to risk my kids breaking anything in the museum!

2. Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street
Dubbed the longest shopping street in Japan (2.6km), there are various kinds of shops here and the street itself looks fascinating! So this goes into our bucket list as well.
Stop: Temma Station (JR Osaka Loop Line)

3. Kaiyukan Aquarium
One of the biggest aquarium in the world. Since I'm travelling with the two girls, our itinerary also includes activities for them. The girls enjoyed their Aquaria KLCC experience, so I think they will love to go to a giant aquarium to see an even bigger fish, the whale shark!
Stop: Osakako Station

There is a special travel pass (price: 2550¥/adult) for Kaiyukan (Osaka Kaiyu Ticket) which bundles the train ride to Kaiyukan area with the admission fee to the Aquarium (admission fee: 2300¥/adult, 600¥ for preschool age 4-6). Basically, it offers unlimited entries to the aquarium (within the day), discounts at the Bay area (Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel discount 100¥/adult, normal fee: 800¥/adult) and unlimited rides on Osaka municipal transportation network (subway/new tramlines/city bus in Osaka City) on the same date. 

Note: Most likely, we will buy this Osaka Kaiyu Ticket since JR railway does not run through this area (total budget: 7650¥).
4. Universal Studios Japan
This is the ultimate of our Japan trip! I think I'll be more excited than my kids going here LOL! My must-visit area shall be The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Hopefully there's not so many people during our visit, since they shall enforce timed visit if there is a huge crowd.
Admission fee: We managed to get birthday rate (since the girls' birthday is this month) and total ticket prices (in RM) for 3 adults & 2 kids are just RM800+ (if there's no discount, the normal price is about RM900+).
Stop: JR Osaka Station

5. Other locations
Since we have limited time once we reach Osaka (only two days!), I might squeeze in a trip to Osaka fish market (Osaka Central Wholesale Market). I just want to soak up the experience of being in one of the busiest fresh produce market and of course, watch the tuna fish auction (but I read we have to be very very early as in 4am if we want to catch them in action!

Another place to put in my KIV bucket-list is Dotonbori area, the spectacular Umeda Sky Building and there's a shop called Asoko for all the creative lifestyle products (yes, I love these unique merchandises and Japan is not short of unique ideas!)

Next entry, I'll list down top food items I want to try in Japan :)
Finally, we are going on our first overseas family vacation!

To be honest, Japan was never in the list of countries I want to go to for very obvious reasons - exorbitant costs. True, flight tickets to Europe may be steeper, but the transportation, accommodation and food costs are quite reasonable. In Japan however, even their public transport may cost you both your arms and legs (well, it's probably justified since they have one of the most efficient public transport in the world!)

STILL. The economy is not so good now, and currency exchange is at its lowest. Before it plunges any lower and before my sister graduates and leaves Japan, I might as well make a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. At least just once.

It happened when I was having a FaceTime conversation with my sister, and while we were chit-chatting, she asked, by the way, she'll be on semester break and why don't we come over and spend the vacation with her?

It took me a week to think of it and finally, whatthehell, I'll just buy the tickets la!

I started looking for the tickets quite late - which is two months before our trip. We will be travelling with AirAsia (praytoGodthatitwillbeasmoothjourney!). I cried a little when I paid for the tickets and then decided to just 'close my eyes' when paying for other incidental costs which we will incur when we are there.

I cried when I paid for the tickets! That's equivalent to our one-month household expenses!

After wiping off my bank account on the tickets, it finally dawned on me that we are finally going overseas! Woohoo!

Osaka castle at night

Then came the tedious part - the preparations. Suffice to say, we will be going there during winter, so that means we have to look for winter clothes. Do you know how much winter clothing costs??? Gulp.

Bertabahlah hati...

My sister helped us out by looking for preloved winter items (read: winter boots, gloves and hats) in Japan which saves us half of what we would have to spend if we bought locally:

Total cos for four pairs of gloves, two pairs of winter hats and a pair of man's boot: 4765¥ (approx. RM170)

We don't mind preloved items, really. After all, we won't be using those clothes every day after our trip so the cheaper, the better to us! 

Other things like jackets, we'll most likely get it from here even though they are going to be a bit pricey compared to getting them from Japan.

So where do we plan to buy our winter clothes? 

Firstly, if you are travelling during winter, you need at least three layers of clothes and most people wear four layers. The first layer is the first clothing you need to put on. It should be able to trap your body heat and rightly so called as the thermal layer. Other name it goes by is long-john. 

The second layer is your normal every day shirt. The third layer is a sweater / pullover. The warmest kind is made of cashmere but it may cost hundreds and even thousands for the good quality ones. But, any normal thick fabric sweater / pullover may do. The fourth and final layer is outer jacket. It should be waterproof, with good insulation and fits you nicely (you don't want cold air to penetrate inside if you wear loose jackets, so I was told).

We are planning to get our winter clothes from here:

1. Uniqlo
I talked to a lot of friends requesting for tips and suggestions and many of them point me to Uniqlo for the first and second layer of clothing (the outer-layer being the third & last layer of clothing).

Uniqlo boasts of having advanced technology clothing called 'heattech', which is made of lightweight high-tech fabric without the scratchy feeling of putting on a long-john, yet serves its purpose to trap your body heat and sweat to keep you warm. It works by using kinetic energy pads to convert body moisture into heat and retain them. Pretty cool huh?

See how thin the fabric is?

There's a lot of positive reviews and claims that it works just like any other long-johns, which convinces me enough to buy them (plus, at RM59.90, it's cheaper than a long-john).

2. Universal Traveller

Unfortunately there's not much option for the outer-layer or winter boots for the kids at Uniqlo, so we will have to look for the outer-layer at Universal Traveller or Winter Time once we are in KL later. Plus, it's having year end sale now, so we probably can get the clothes at discounts.

3. Facebook (Preloved Groups)
I also tried scouting around for preloved winter jackets for my kids but I worry that the jackets may not be the right fit for them (too small / too big) because the salesperson at Universal Traveller. 

Anyway, shopping for clothes alone can be a daunting task. Then there are other things to research as well - which train line to buy? How to buy? Should we bring the stroller, knowing full well that some of the train station is not stroller-friendly, but our kids are not used to walking either? 

Then there's a whole set of budgeting considerations that we need to also think of - how much cash is sufficient to bring? How much to budget for one day? How much is admission fee to local attractions? Where is the cheapest place to change currencies? Blablabla.

I'll probably cover these in a separate post. Still in the midst of doing our research :) Wish me luck!
It seems like the only time I write nowadays are to review hotels or write letters to my girls  on their birthdays, LOL. To be honest, life has been a monotonous tone, thank you very much *pause*

Well, you have to be thankful that life works out predictable in this highly volatile environment and economic situation - we still have work to keep us occupied, salary gets in as usual, there's enough moolah to cover all the bills, the kids (and I) are growing and healthy, my husband and I are still married though we live separately most of the time, and well, that's how life goes.

BUT. Deep, deep down inside, I am feeling pretty restless at the absence of excitement in life. When MBA mission is over and accomplished, for a while I felt hugely satisfied and inspired that I had overcome one major block in life - that is to graduate with a master's degree. I guess I'm an adrenaline junkie, somewhat. Even though I've settled down with two kids, I am always on the lookout for something to set my eyes on, to pursue and conquer at the end of the day.

One of the biggest hurdles / accomplishment in our lives

So what have I done in 2015?

Firstly, at the beginning of the year, I had set a few targets to achieve:

1. To read and finish a book every month (12months x 1 book = 12 books all together) - checked!
2. To leave office at 5pm 3 times a week - mixed results
3. To go on an overseas trip - does Brunei count?? It's still on the same land though, but hey, our kids got their first Immigration stamp on their passport!

Although I spent 4 years going back to school and doing lots of reading, it's not the same, no sir! Reading because you are obliged to, as opposed to reading because you enjoy reading can feel somewhat 'empty' (just like performing solat because it's compulsory but you don't put your heart into it will make you will feel 'empty'). So when I graduated, I thought it was time to catch up on my first hobby - reading.

So I read. And read one book after another. I don't have a specific genre that I like to read - my choice of book depends on the author. I tend to buy books by the same author because I would feel a lot more confident that I will like their writing style hence their storyline. I also like straightforward books - one that doesn't require me to go on overdrive mode trying to understand the message the author is trying to deliver. After all, I read books to unwind and I like to unwind in the most relaxing manner, LOL. So if you are thinking to get me books for birthday gifts, skip Dan Brown or Stephen Kings, please.

Some of the books I've covered
So far, my favourite authors are Sophie Kinsella (I get amused by her characters), James Patterson (he writes murders and crimes in the simplest manner and language), JK Rowling (who doesn't like her books?), Diana Wynne Jones (I'm not embarrassed to admit I still read children's fictions, but I love love LOVE her imagination!) and Kamila Shamsie (she is just amazing at describing simple, every day things).

So yes, this is one big accomplishment this year!

On the second goal - there is one good news and one bad news. The bad news is, being workaholic is pretty tough to kick out! I thought I had cured myself of this addiction after Khayla was born, but then I relapsed. To make it worse, I realize that I tend to get more productive towards the end of the day rather than at the beginning of the day. So when I go into productive mode, it's already 5pm. Most of the time, I end up calling my mom to ask her to pick the girls up and continue my work until 6.30 or 7pm.

The good news is, I think I'm slowly starting to let go of this bad habit. It's just taking quite some time to convince myself to leave office while the sun is still up (yeah, 3 years is pretty much a long time to change!). I was a lot worse back then - when I started work, my record of going back from the office was 4 freaking AM! Then I started to cut back to 10pm, 8pm, 7pm.. and now, trying to go back earlier than 6.30pm.

I've also stopped regularly bringing work home, since I know that I'll go into mommy mode, so there's no way I'll touch my work laptop once I reach home (unless I have a really, really urgent deadline!). So, yeah. I'm still on track on this one! 

When I need to distract my kids while working on urgent deadline

Lastly, I have been dreaming to go on overseas trip with my family (read: cold-climate countries). This was fuelled further when Suami Terchenta mentioned that he was going to be posted to Ireland for 3 weeks sometime early of the year. I almost bought tickets to Gold Coast after he called me to inform that his superior had asked him to standby to go to Australia for a meeting with potential client there. I was more excited than him and even spent a bit of my time researching on the places he mentioned but turned out, none materialized! *so disappointed*

Still, I am determined to make it happen. I don't agree with people who say that it's a waste of time and money travelling when our kids are still young because we have to lug around a lot of stuff (diapers, strollers, formula milk, etc.) and they will most likely end up not remembering the trip. Instead, my rationale is it will be more difficult to go on vacation during off-peak period (read: when it's not school holiday) once Khayla started primary school. Besides, kids' tickets are cheaper and most of the time, admission fees for kids are half of adult's price when they are not of school-age (6 years and below). Below 4 are even free!

So, I lowered my expectations (read: divert my attention away from Europe / Australia) since currency exchange is pretty bad now, and instead will take the opportunity to visit my sister in Japan during winter. At least we will save a lot on plane tickets / travelling time there.

I soooo can't wait for this vacation! *eyes shining full of hope*

With that, I am looking forward to 2016. 2015 may be monotonous, but it's good monotonous. I hope to stir things up in 2016 but I haven't figured out in what way LOL! Perhaps Japan will give me some ideas on what to do in 2016.

Will definitely blog about my Japan trip later. Toodles!
My darling daughters,

Today, both of you celebrate your fifth & third birthday. Happy birthday, sweeties!! No days have passed without laughter since you girls came to our lives. Of course there are days when I wished I could have some peace and quiet. There are also days when all I want to do is to lock myself in the room so I could have some me-time without you two poking your head and asking me what's up. But those days are nothing compared to all the time I enjoy watching you grow up, loving your happy nature as well as childish antics.

As usual, I'm going to write to each of you separately. May one day you two enjoy reading these letters and remember how much I love you till my last breath.

To my Queen Elsa a.k.a. Princess Amber a.k.a. my sweetest firstborn - Khayla,

At four years old, you are quite a chatterbox. You like to observe things and asking 'Why's'. Your love for singing is still apparent - and what a sweet voice you have too. You like the finer things in life like travelling in an aeroplane (Malaysia Airlines, of course) and staying in a hotel (at least 4 stars!). Whenever I told you we are staying in a hotel, you get all excited and will then rush to pack your small toy luggage for the journey LOL!

Watching cartoon programs en-route to KL
Part of the reason you love staying in hotels - food tastes better in fine-dining restaurant?

At this age, your command of English far surpasses mine when I was your age. What's more, you speak English with an accent, courtesy of Disney Jr channel. Nevertheless, you have started picking up Malay language from friends at school, and occasionally you address yourself as 'kamek' (me), which is kinda cute.

Telling dad a story
Like any other 4-years-old girls, you adore Queen Elsa of 'Frozen' and desperately wish to be her in every aspect - you want to dress up like her, speak like her (you can recite all her lines by heart!) and everything you own from your school bag to your stationeries, have pictures of Queen Elsa on them. Every morning, I have to wake you up saying, 'Wake-y2x, Queen Elsa!' because you fancy her so much you want to be her LOL. You are crazy about Hi-5 too, but now you are slowly losing interest in this group. And this month, you start to watch Sofia the First and calling yourself 'Princess Amber'!

Love getting made up - even with face painting
You are still VERY picky about food, and most of the time only eat one type of food - white rice. Or noodle (plain). It is quite normal of course, but I still get very agitated each mealtime. Nothing will ever work out your appetite since you even refuse multivitamins!

Social skills-wise, you seem to be able to mingle with friends but when I ask you if you have any best friends, you can't think of any and end up saying you don't have any friends. We will have to work on that, sayang, because to survive in this world you need to connect with a lot of people. You also still can't get along well with your sister most of the time - refusing to share toys, colouring pencils or food with Khadeeja. BUT. When you guys do get along, I get all warm inside watching you play with dolls together, or just chasing each other screaming with laughter.

Joining in colouring contest
My beautiful princess,

The thing that I love about you is how you are fond of proclaiming your love to your family. Clearly, you love your family A LOT. There was one time when you stay with your Wa, and then you called us to tell us how much you miss us. Your Wa then told us after you hang up, you cried because, in your own word, 'I miss my family.' Only that, most of the time, you don't count Khadeeja as your family. In your mind, family is Bapak, Mommy and yourself. This is another thing we have to work out, sweetie. 

Moving on to my adorable little cupcake, Khadeeja;

Despite your petite size, you are the embodiment of LIFE itself! You are sweet, lovable, huggable, loud, annoying, hard-headed, funny,/"" confident, bad-temper and clever all rolled into one. You never seem to run out of energy - always running, meddling, shouting and going after your sister like a hurricane. You are the opposite of your sister - where your sister is shy, you are bold and you have this devil-may-care attitude that no one can match except your mother. 

I love to eat - omnomnomnom!

At this age, you are extremely independent too - you don't want Mommy to bathe you, no thank you! You can shampoo yourself, brush your own teeth and occasionally put on your own clothes too. You also have your own preferred style - despite your very boy-ish behavior, you refuse to put on anything other than 'princess' gowns - choosing skirts over pants or shorts.

You love food especially fruits (apples, grapes, oranges, watermelon, durians - you name it) but you don't seem to grow that much despite your healthy appetite.

Ice cream, Mom?

You look up to your sister in the love-hate kind of way. She is your role model but she is also your fast enemy. You want to be like her  and you love everything that she loves, yet you have no qualms of picking fights with her as well.

Even though you are close to three, you are still very 'pelat' - you can't pronounce 's' and often say 'sat' as 'cat'. Yet, this is the thing that endears everybody to you.

You have a quirky sense of style at this age
Here rockin' up another shades!

If your sister likes to proclaim her love to her family, you prefer to show your love physically. You enjoy giving kisses and hugging us, something that your sister is more reluctant to do (she doesn't mind getting kissed but don't really like kissing people). You still want me to hug you until you fall asleep at night, which can be complicated since your sister also wants to sleep in my arm. Then you both will fight and end up one of you will cry (most often than not, your sister). Even though both of you can't seem to sleep without being physically in contact with another person (me or Bapak), somehow in your sleep you can sense if you get too close to each other. Then you two will push and kick at each other even in your sleep LOL!

My chocolate cupcake with cherry on top,

In terms of learning, you are a very fast learner and can catch a concept with no problems whatsoever. My only worry is since you are very stubborn at times, you refuse to let me to show you how to do things correctly (e.g. how to write letters). This is something that we need to talk about, Khadeeja - your stubbornness. Somehow, I know I have to teach you how to listen to others because you could get obstinate and refuse to come when I call you.

Adik is about to get kicked!
My darlings,

Despite everything that goes on between the two of you, sometimes you can be very sweet to each other too. Like picking matching dresses - or playing together. You two have started getting along with each other. For example, tonight I was feeling not well and decided to rest. The two of you rarely interrupted my nap, except for important matters. The rest of the night, you played with each other which is a major relief to me.

Taking photo together

My gentle Queen and princess warrior,

No matter what, no matter when, I will always be by your side especially on your special day. I love you two very, very, very much my darlings. I won't trade you with anyone, not even with Prince George and his adorable baby sister. In my eyes, the two of you are the most beautiful gifts that Allah bestowed on me. Alhamdulillah.

Happy birthday sayangku, Khayla & Khadeeja!

Happy together

Love you with every beat of my heart,