23 November, 2017

Not camping this weekend

This is approximately where we're headed.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of our snow camp. Did you hear about it? If not, here it is: Remember the time mum and dad took us camping in the snow?
Us, last year this weekend.

In the last year we've had some great conversations with other people about this camping trip. Most have been in the realm of "you're crazy!" But we do have super memories. And it really is fun to have done something a little extreme like this and survived.

The amazing sight we discovered on our way back
from the toilet block on our first morning.
As I wrote when we went camping last month, we decided not to camp this year at Thanksgiving time (which had been our tradition for several years). It turns out that the weather is going to be quite favourable if we'd chosen to do it—sunshine with daytime temperatures in the teens, night times still low single digits. But we've made other plans.

We're still going to a campsite, but we're spending more money and renting a cabin instead. Hopefully a cabin that has a heater!

We're also going to a place where we know local church planters from the UK and will spend time with them and their teenage boys over the weekend. Because the weather is forecast to be good we should be able to have some fun at a local beach (but not in the water!).

If it's a good experience, we might even go back in warmer weather sometime with a tent. Apparently there are good views as it's up on a hill.

We're looking forward to getting out of Tokyo, even if only for two nights and three days.

22 November, 2017

On this day seven years ago

One of the things I like to check in the morning is the "On this day" on Facebook. It brings up a lot of interesting things that I've posted in past years: events, photos, etc. Because I've posted links to my blog on Facebook pretty much since the beginning, it also shows me those and they can be fun to read also. 

Today I came up with this, a glimpse of what my life in was like when I had 11, 8, and 5 year olds. Sometimes I'm asked about when my kids were younger and even now I can't remember a lot of it. Having written about one particular day on my blog, we can go back and have a peek into life in 2010. Indeed quite different to my life now.

Here are some extracts (for context, we were at a fun sports day for home schoolers, held at CAJ):
Parks were a big part of our family's recreation when
the boys were younger. So much energy!
At lunch-time my kids ate and ran - typical. They really don't eat much at school usually, because there is too much play to be done. However I lingered longer in the bright autumn sun. Eventually I realised that the girls on the next table over were dressed the same, had the same drink bottles, their hair was done in the same fashion etc. Yes, they were twins. 5 y.o. twins. The more amazing thing was that they sat for the entire lunch-hour. Just sat, and ate, slowly. My boys never sit and eat. They squirm, they shove it in and they leave. Getting them to linger over a meal is like extracting a tooth without anaesthetic. Very painful. I can only imagine what it must be like to have children who just sit quietly. . . 
Very soon my eldest was trying to entertain the others by putting the road cone on his head, by playing with water and blindfolding himself and others with the bandanna that awaited us at our relay-station.
My middle son was intense at the games. Competitive to the last. Determined that we obey the rules, even if it wasn't clear what they were!
My youngest was the victim of the other two as well as his youth. He quickly tired of the competitiveness, of the intensity and the pressure. He folded and assumed that it was all too hard. . .
I cannot say that I was having a fun time. Trying to wrestle a balloon off two intense brothers rolling in the dirt. Trying to placate the youngest and stop him being victimised by his brothers. Trying to explain to the middle son that it was okay that the neighbouring team didn't exactly follow the rules. Trying to make sure everyone had a chance to participate. It wasn't fun. . . 
Some people consoled me with the presumption that my boys would go home and collapse. They don't know my boys. My kids are like energiser bunnies and go and go and go. After sports day the younger two went across the road to their usual 1 hour swimming lesson. When they got home from that they wanted to play soccer outside or balloon volleyball in the lounge. It was only when I said that I needed help putting sheets back on beds that they feigned tiredness!
However I was tired, mentally if not physically. We parked them in front of a video for an hour before tea (dinner), just to give us a break and help their active bodies to slow down. Soon they'd rush through another meal and we'd push them to bed (energiser bunnies don't appreciate being made to slow down, they click). Then we could have some peace.
People now say to me, "You're lucky to have such active boys." But I don't know. I definitely feel like it's been a long, challenging 18½ years of parenting so far. I love to see them compete in sports now: I love that all that energy now has a positive outlet (and I don't need to organise or facilitate it). Also, then when they come home now, they are generally tired and don't bounce around like they used to!

Sometimes I'm asked if I miss the times when they were younger and the truth is that I don't. As you've just read, it was an exhausting period of my life. I had pre-schoolers for 10 years and that was long enough for me.

It's also good to remind myself that life is a little physically easier now than it was then, it is easy to forget. What I've forgotten a little, is that it wasn't mentally or emotionally easy back then either. The battles have changed, the boys have gotten bigger and stronger (but not more strong-willed, that's been steadily difficult, I think). It is harder now, though, to make them do things they don't want to do. They are definitely more opinionated and don't hesitate to let us know those opinions.

Enough reminiscing. Back to now. Tonight we have the first wrestling meet of the season (actually just a dual, should be less than an hour). The team is much smaller than last year and it's discouraging to see that. We don't have any of our family wrestling tonight, but I do have friends whose kids are, and I'm keen to sit with them and cheer for their kids. No disguising it—I'm excited to see live wrestling again, though I know it won't be as special as last year, but it won't be as stressful either!

Another messy evening: as I'll make dinner early and people will eat it when they're free (wrestling starts at 6, but two of our family won't be home from school till after it's over and another family member will be home before 6, but out until late as he goes straight to youth group from there, we're not sure if the fifth family member will even leave the house...).

21 November, 2017

Interesting map facts about Australia and Japan

I love maps and interesting statistics. This article has some fascinating statistics that relate to
our lives as Aussies in Japan. Here are the ones that catch my eye most:
  • Japan's a pretty green place, especially in comparison to Australia. Japan has 68.6% of its land forested, that's 17th highest in the world.
  • Japan has many more roads than Australia (1.21 million km vs 823,000 km), despite Australia being 20 times bigger than Japan. I guess it makes sense in some ways, because Japan has more than five and a half times Australia's population.
  • We've moved from one of the least crowded nations to one of the most crowded (well, we pretty much knew this already!).
  • Australian drink more alcohol than Japanese, in fact more than most countries do. I don't know if I'm surprised at this. I do know that alcohol is readily available in my local grocery store in Japan, though.
  • Japan is one of the highest risk nations for a natural disaster. Yep, pretty sure I knew this. That's why we have an emergency kit in our cupboard.
  • Australia and Japan are both listed on the high end of urbanisation. Difference is that there's a lot of places where no one lives in Australia. Driving through Japanese and Australian countryside is quite a different experience. The cities and towns are much further apart in Australia.
  • One of the hundreds of tunnels in Japan, this one is on
    the northern island on Hokkaido.
  • The two countries are similar in ranking for rail network, but I'm sure that that is totally skewed by the long distances trains have to cover to get to Perth and Darwin. Rail is the primary mode of transport in Tokyo. 40 million passengers use the trains each day! More than Australia's whole population. Tokyo alone has 882 stations and nearly 5,000 km of track!
Our house (blue roof) and road.
Go and have a peek at the maps, you might learn something about your country you don't know!

20 November, 2017

A messy day

Today's been a messy day. It was one of those days that it's hard to get traction on anything. Here's how it went (please be patient, it is messy, after all).

As many of you know life as a family just gets more complicated as your kids get older. Mine aren't super social, so they're not off at other people's houses all that much, but they do do sport, and in this season that means wrestling training until after 6pm many nights. Thankfully we live close to school and I don't have to pick them up, and they can eat dinner pretty soon after they finish training.

I am one of those people who like to know what we're having for dinner ahead of time to save the mental angst of trying to figure out what I can make with what we have. So I have a simple menu plan for our evening meals (very simple, just a list of the days with the main evening dish written on it). This week I'd planned chicken wraps for tonight and our eldest agreed he'd like to make that (as part of his agreed household job of cooking one evening meal a week).

Then we discovered yesterday that tonight there were inter-school basketball matches at school in the evening. That meant that we maybe could buy dinner at school and support the seniors fundraising for their Thailand trip next year. It's become an enjoyable family tradition to do this as much as we can during the autumn and winter sporting seasons.

The other factor in figuring things out was one boy deciding that he wanted to go to the doctor (for acne that just isn't improving). 

Then are the other factors that have made planning a little tricky this week: 

1. Wrestling duals at CAJ on Wednesday night, which I'd planned to go to and most/all of the family with me.
2. Thursday is a public holiday (only relevant because doctors don't open on those days, CAJ has school that day).
3. We're going away Friday for a long weekend.

So, can you see, trying to figure it all out is like a jigsaw puzzle. What piece fits where?

This morning my questions were:
1. Is food being sold at school tonight?
2. When is the best afternoon to go with my son to the doctor? (Keeping in mind that you can't make appointments to see this doctor, you have to just turn up and take a number, and it is usually a long line).
3. When is the best night for our eldest son to cook dinner (keeping in mind that I'd already gotten the chicken out to defrost)?

At 9.30 this morning I thought I had it figured out: We would go to the doctor this afternoon, then have dinner at school tonight, and our son could cook dinner tomorrow night. I checked with the relevant boys and then informed everyone else (though one boy failed to look at his email and was clueless).

So I merrily went about my day as best I could.
8.30-10 A bit of email and catching up on other computer-work related things.
10-11.30 At school at a prayer meeting and touching base with David about our plans for the evening.
11.30-12.15 Rode to get groceries
12.15-1.00 Ate lunch
1.00-3.00 Computer work (editing, email etc.)
3.00 Headed out to the doctor

We got to the doctor and saw the above sign. The doctor's hours have changed and he's now closed on Mondays! Arggghhh.

Yes, I know, really just an inconvenience, not a big problem. But it took a while for my son and I to reformat our thinking and adjust what we were going to do next, not to mention refiguring the puzzle I've outlined above. I ended up going to a nearby department store and I wandered round a bit in the warm until I felt ready to go home (I did get a couple of pantry items that we needed).

One more piece of background to today: it has dropped down to winter temperatures. It was 6C at 8.15 when our boys left for school this morning, and hasn't risen a lot further than 10C. I haven't felt like going outside at all, all day! Inside is a bit better, but only if I'm in the dining/office/kitchen area. And it's back to feeling cold a lot of the time and the inconveniences of winter to go out: scarf, jacket, gloves, and hat/ear muffs.

Sigh. Sorry for my grumblings. I'm glad that I have the means to keep warm, God is so good to us. I really don't have any right to grumble. I'm just going through the transition of late autumn to early winter and never enjoy that transition in Tokyo.

If you're interested, here is how the rest of the afternoon panned out:

4.00 I rode home, bantered with boys (yes, they were in the mood) and had coffee.
4.15 Got on the computer, answered a couple more emails and started this post.
5.30 Walked to school for dinner with David (the boys all at at various later times at school)
6.15 Watched basketball.
7.30 Walked home and had a very hot shower to warm up.

And now I'm back at the computer, finishing off this blog post.

I know that this kind of scenario is played out in many houses every week. It's usually not so complicated, though knowing when to have dinner on the table is a bit tricky in this season.

I'm not fond of the messiness. In some ways it was easier when they were all home by 4pm and in bed by 7.30. Though what we've got now is more physical freedom, it takes more mental and emotional energy to do all the shuffling, negotiating, and coordinating. 

I am really thankful I'm not driving kids all around like I would be in Australia, though. It does make it a lot easier that we live really close to school. I'm also thankful that I have a flexible job that I do from home, and that I have a lot of control over my own schedule, so that isn't usually a big factor when it comes to dealing with the family. It does mean, though, that things I've planned are usually the first to go (for example, time at the gym).

But I've raved on long enough about this messy day . . . messy life. How much of a "messy" schedule are you willing to put up with? How do you cope?

19 November, 2017

Another (exciting) piece of the puzzle

In the ongoing saga of transitioning our eldest son to the next stage of his life, we've had unexpected news. 

Good news. Unexpected, because it's come about two months earlier than we thought it would. But very good news.

On Friday night, while I was cleaning my teeth, my husband called out in a curiously upbeat voice, "[Our eldest son] has got a letter."

I knew he'd not gotten snail mail that day, so at 10pm, how could he have gotten a letter? I poked my nose into our bedroom where my husband was folding clothes and raised my eyebrows (my mouth occupied by a toothbrush). He pointed to the big boys' bedroom next door.

I poked my nose in there and couldn't see anything, because our son's desk is tucked away behind a bookshelf. So I went all the way in to where my son was staring at his computer. He pointed at the screen. There, I could see an official letter from the University of Queensland that said something along the lines of, "we are offering you a place in the course Bachelor of Mathematics and Science."

"Wow!" I spluttered, barely keeping the toothpaste inside my mouth. "That's amazing! Congratulations!!!" And I high fived him.

Our middle son was wandering around saying, "Mum's in my bedroom cleaning her teeth?!?"

Our eldest son said the understatement of the month, "You seem excited mum."

It was his first choice and one that we wondered if his score would be high enough to get. Not to mention that we weren't even waiting for such a thing at this time.

For years we've been wondering, and answering questions from other people wondering, about how easy it would be to get an Australian child from an American-style school in Japan admitted into an Australian university. It all seemed too easy in the end, though. It hasn't cost us much time at all and gone very smoothly. I kept waiting for the hitch.

But it seems he is now accepted into university (a double degree with a high entry mark at a university ranked in the top 50 in the world, 4th in Australia, no less, oh and our alma mater too). And it's getting real.

I guess soon we'll have to make it even more real and spend some money to buy tickets to take him to Brisbane in February (school year starts in the third week).

17 November, 2017

How about managing stress?

I've really not had much time here to write my own stuff today. I seem to be spending a lot of time with other people's work . . . I guess that's part of my job and I'm not really complaining. It's great to have a skill that I can use and enjoy doing.

At times like these I look at my "draft" blog posts. I've got nearly 100 of them. Many of them are simply a link that I've found and pasted into a blog post for future use. Here's one I found recently: http://www.alifeoverseas.com/managing-stress-overseas/

This is simply one person's list of what she and her family are doing to keep stress under control in their household in Indonesia (she's quite a mix of cultures herself). It includes sleep, hobbies, exercise, and thankfulness.

The question she ended her list with was: "How about you? What routines have you found helpful in managing stress?"

Well, here's my current list in no particular order, and probably not exhaustive:

  • try not to look at email after dinner
  • try to get regular exercise, including bike rides to parks with my camera
  • get to bed before 10 most night
  • rest in bed on Sunday afternoons
  • do at least one card game (Spider) on my phone each day, sometimes I also get to do a  Sudoku challenge and Words with Friends games
  • schedule evening meals, including one or preferably two left-over-type meals
  • read good books before falling asleep
  • watch a TV episode with my husband in the evening
  • take time regularly to have coffee with friends
  • meet about once a month with a good friend over Skype
  • take time to recalibrate spiritually on my own at a coffee shop when I need to (mini retreat)
  • go camping periodically
  • take holidays during the summer and at Christmas
  • get massages and don't feel guilty about that
  • get out of Tokyo when we can
  • not feel guilty at saying no to things that I know I'm not good at
  • try to burrow back in my thoughts and figure out why I feel upset, or angry, or unsettled, or any upset of my usual balance (it's usually a small trigger, but figuring it out is helpful)
  • writing this blog!
Phew. That's a lot. Am I high maintenance? 

I've been struggling with headaches this week. I'm not exactly sure why. I have many triggers for headaches, including stress but I don't feel especially stressed at present. I hope that next week is better.

So, what about you? What do you do to manage stress? (You don't need to write as detailed a list as mine!)

16 November, 2017

Taiwan in Tokyo

On Saturday I met my two Bible-study ladies at Harajuku, a popular hub in Tokyo. I have only been there a handful of times. It is usually crowded and I'm not fond of crowds. It's also full of expensive shops and restaurants—not really our scene at all.

One of the ladies is Taiwanese and the other Malaysian. Our young Malaysian friend did some research and discovered a Taiwanese restaurant. Last time we met at an Australian restaurant and the time before was American. I guess this really is turning into an international Bible study, despite never leaving Tokyo!
Taiwanese noodles. They had a subtle flavour
that is apparently very Taiwanese. I ate some,
though I did find them quite salty.
So I got to sample some Taiwanese food and drink. I'm not an adventurous eater, so I struggle to try, and enjoy, new foods. I'm not a tea drinker, nor do I like tapioca, so it was a little wasted on me! I had mango juice, though, which was scrumptious. 
These were tasty. Fried daikon cakes, I think. Daikon is a large, white root vegetable. A type of radish (but mild-flavoured).
The decor revealed someone had had a love of hexagons!
This was the ceiling.
And the tiles on the front of the front counter.
When I arrived back at our station, I was treated to the gorgeous sight of the sun setting on Mt Fuji. I wish I'd had a better camera, but I just had my phone, which didn't take such a bad photo.