28 March, 2017

Three things I didn't used to have

Here are three candid photos from my entryway.

A basket of scarves. Yes, they're mostly mine! And no, they aren't ornamental, they are to keep me warm. I rarely wear scarves as an accessory because it is so nice to be free of them after having to use these for so many months.

A couple of baskets with other bits and pieces of winter gear, including earmuffs for riding. And no, this isn't mostly mine.

A cupboard of jackets. Half of these are mine.

I was an innocent Queensland-girl when I came to Japan 16 years ago. Since then I've learned about all sorts of winter gear that I barely knew existed before! I've learned that being able to walk out the door without "kitting up" is such a luxury! In Tokyo I use at least some of this gear for almost half the year (in that cupboard are varying weights of jackets).

Spring is being shy. A little slow in coming this year. I'm hoping we'll be able to put a lot of this away soon.

27 March, 2017

Savouring multigrain bread rolls

"What food do you miss?" is a common question we field in Australia. There are lots of things we mildly miss (read here: not desperately crave) and enjoy when we're in Australia. But there is also a lot that we don't miss or can fairly easily get in Japan.
One thing we "miss" is being able to buy cheap, tasty non-sweet bread rolls in the shop. Even more—being able to buy cheap multigrain bread or bread rolls in the shop. Bread availability has improved a lot since we first arrived, but it still doesn't really meet these criteria.

So periodically I make my own. We make most of our own bread, actually, in a machine. The sliced variety, and yes, wholemeal or multigrain and not sweet. But not often do I do my own kneading and make rolls.

This afternoon I did and we had delightful, though a little too crusty, flat multigrain bread rolls for dinner. Yum!

They didn't last long, however. It's hard to tell, but they are big rolls. These six represent 600g of flour, a usual medium loaf of bread. My two big guys polished 1 ½ of these off (filled with pork and home-made BBQ sauce) then they moved onto rice along with the usual truck-load of vegetables. The other three of us had just one roll each.

25 March, 2017

Chocolate Oat Bars

I made these last weekend and have been getting rave reviews from the two boys at home this week. By great restraint we've managed to keep some for guys who returned from Thailand today, thankfully it's quite a large recipe.

250g butter, melted
440g brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
375g self-raising flour (or plain flour plus 2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder)
3 cups rolled oats

300g chocolate, chopped
295g can sweetened condensed milk
30g butter, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
Optional: 120g chopped pecans

1. Preheat the oven to moderate (about 160C for fan forced). Lightly grease two 19cm x 29cm rectangular slice pans (or the equivalent), line with baking paper, ensuring.
2. Combine butter, sugar, eggs, and essence in a large bowl. Add sifted flour and oats; mix well.
3. Divide mixture into three equal portions. Press one portion of mixture evenly over base of one prepared pan (I found this time consuming). Repeat with other pan. Keep aside one portion. Refrigerate while preparing filling.
4. Filling: Combine chocolate, condensend milk, and butter in a small saucepan, stir over low heat for about two minutes or until chocolate is melted. Add essence and nuts, if you are using.
5. Spread filling evenly over both bases. Crumble remaining mixture over filling in both pans. 
6. Bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes or until browned. Cool in pans.
7. Refrigerate for several hours before cutting into slices. Either in the pans or out.

24 March, 2017

Thursday Therapy

Yesterday was a bit of a "meh" day. Several reasons for that:
  • I am waiting on several people to do things or get back to me on stuff. They all have reasons for the delay, but my to-do list was looking like a "wait-for-so-and-so" list.
  • It was grey outside, and not as warm as it often is at this time of year. I'm longing for warmer weather. Longing to get out of jackets and long-johns.
  • Linked to the above, the weather for our camping trip was looking cruddy. Rain, snow, sleet, all these were forecast for the whole three days and four nights. Ugh. We'd anticipated having an epic four-family camping trip with other CAJ-teacher-families. This has been in the planning since last November and yesterday's texting conversation between them all was about whether to go ahead with our plans, or to change, or cancel them. Depressing—as I was looking forward to this trip so much.
  • I really don't like being a single parent, though it's been quite a bit easier this time than many times in the past (they're older and there's only two of them), I'm still missing my soul mate and partner in running this household. I'm getting tired. Yes, these guys are at school all day, but I'm still doing "parenting stuff" at 9.30/10pm at night, past my "Cinderella Hour" and it wears me out when I can't share this. As always, my respect for single parents shoots through the roof!
However, I'd put "ride to the park" on the calendar for yesterday two weeks ago, so I forced myself out of the house and rode. Thankfully, the clouds cleared a little while I was out and there were shadows, even full sun for a bit. It was definitely good for me. 

Every day this week I've taken some "me" time during the day. 
  • Monday I spent time with other parents at two prayer meetings and over lunch (this was organised by someone else and was very enjoyable social time).
  • Tuesday I had a massage (yes, I do this, it is a maintenance thing, but it isn't weekly)
  • Wednesday I had lunch with a friend who I haven't spent one-on-one time with for ages. It was great (unashamedly deep conversation), but too short due to unavoidable constraints on her time.
  • Thursday I rode to the park.
  • Friday I took lunch to a local friend who has three little ones. We also had wonderful, though understandably fragmented conversation.
I'm so thankful my work this week has given me the freedom to do this.

At the park I mostly rode around looking for signs of spring with my camera. The "major" cherry blossom trees aren't out yet, but they're very close. There were a few other trees who had a chance to shine, though. Here are some of my better captures:

A type of early blooming cherry blossom. Sorry, don't know which kind.

Magnolia. Not as spectacular, but still gorgeous after months of nude trees.

I need to work harder on getting my depth of field right (camera setting), but this was an intriguing tree called a Sanshuyu mizuki (I know this because many trees in this park have labels) or an Asiatic dogwood (which I know because of my awesome Japanese-English app).

This one is slightly better.

This tree is called a Kibushi in Japanese. There doesn't seem to be a common English word for it, maybe an "Early Spiketail"? Or Stachyurus praecox, to use the official botanical name. Whatever it's called, it's pretty.

Just about to pop!

Not a lot was blooming, but there were an awful lot of buds on the trees. Next week will be glorious, if it isn't raining!

I dared to have my camera out for a short part of my ride home (it still makes me nervous to have this equipment hanging around my neck when I'm on a bike), and I captured (but not very well, my focus was too close to me) one of my favourite things at this time of year: the pink of sakura just poking out in an unexpected place.

23 March, 2017

Wanting deep conversation

I'm someone who loves a good, long, deep conversation. 
This friend and I have sat through many wrestling meets,
cross-country meets, track meets, and car journeys too and
from such things. Wrestling meets are just not conducive to
long, deep conversations. Deep, yes, but not long! However,
we went camping with these friends last year and one treasured
memory for me is sitting for ages while the kids played and
talking about deep things.

But sometimes when I'm talking to a person I feel like I'm stressing them out. They're looking for an exit strategy and I'm not supplying one. I'm not sure how to deal smoothly with that.

Is the onus on me? Am I acting too needy and clingy and driving people away? Or is it that people don't want a deep conversation with me? 

Sometimes—and I understand this—they have other important things that need doing. That happens to me (and I hate it when I have to cut a good conversation short because I have to go to another thing on my schedule.) Or they're just not in the mood. Or maybe it is that they just don't really like me at all, and a shallow, short conversation is all they want (yes, I know about this too). Or having a deep conversation is way too scary.

Do you ever have thoughts like this?

I know that some of this is culture-driven (this article about adjusting to a slower-paced life in France showed me that), but that doesn't make it easier to cope with.

I also know a lot of this is driven by my personality (ENFP), I've just Googled "ENFP" and "deep conversation" and found others with similar complaints. It's a life-long problem for me. I got upset at our wedding because we had so many wonderful friends all in the same room and I just wanted to sit and have a long, deep conversation with them all. Of course it was an unrealistic expectation, but the pain was real.

There is also an element here of how being a missionary has changed me. I don't know how long someone will be in my life, so I have a tendency to go deep fast. I saw a great example of this the other day. It was with some ladies I was having lunch with, missionaries who don't know each other very well. We'd barely settled into our seats when one asked another, "I heard that you set aside your Tuesdays to spend time with God." It was a stunning plunge into deep conversation.

I'm just thankful I do have friends with whom I can have long conversations, although at this point in our lives it usually requires scheduling to achieve this. Long gone are the days of university when you could just sit around and chat for hours on end with little consequences.

I've meandered around here a bit, but I am still interested in your thoughts on my thoughts above. How do I handle the feeling that someone wants an exit strategy when I just want a deep conversation?

22 March, 2017

⅖ of the family in Thailand

An old photo from a previous trip. This is David's fourth
trip to Thailand with senior classes.
David and our eldest son are in northern Thailand with the school's seniors (about 50 or so students) right now. They left last Friday and will get back this Saturday. It is the school's highly anticipated "Senior Ministry Trip." 

But is quite different from the sort of year 12 trip done by most schools in Australia and Japan.

The primary focus of their time in Thailand is service to the Hill Tribe people (Lahu) in Northern Thailand. "This is a tribe from northern Myanmar that was driven from its native homeland and has migrated to northern Thailand where the tribe is living among the Thai people." (Quote from one of the handouts we were given.)

As far as I understand it, this tribe doesn't receive support from the Thai government as they are like illegal immigrants. CAJ Seniors have been going to this area for quite a number of years now, mostly helping with building projects, especially at local schools.

This year they are helping build an extension for a nursery/day care centre (for young children) at Huay Kok Moo school. They're also working at Thomas House, an independent school for special needs children. Last year's seniors laid the foundation for one building in this centre and this year the students are making bricks to form paths between buildings, sanding window and door frames prior to them being varnished etc. The students also take turns in groups to play with the children.

They've been very busy doing the above, plus hiking, going on a bike ride, and learning about the local culture and history too.

The school's professional photographer is with them and is posting some great photos by him and one of the very talented seniors on a private Facebook page.

Another focus of the trip is leadership development and class collaboration. This is one of the things the school focuses on especially in middle and high school is leadership development. Collaboration is a school core value. So they've been doing real life problem solving activities and other things like a ropes course, confidence course etc.

Japanese schools tend to take trips that are about the culture and history of their own country or pleasure trips, like to Tokyo Disney or some private schools go for a fun trip overseas. I suspect Australian schools just take pleasure trips, although I'm quite removed from that scene, so I couldn't be sure.

A Christian International school is a different context and you can see that reflected in many ways throughout a school year. In this case, one reason they choose Thailand, I believe, is that we almost never have a Thai-speaking child graduating, so the students who are used to dealing with cross-cultural situations are completely out of their comfort zone. This is quite relevant as many of them will be going to another culture after graduation for further studies. Even if it is their passport country, they will find that it is a challenging change from an international high school.

From the home-side point of view, we're missing our two guys. We're getting along okay, but not without some nasty times (particularly Monday night and Tuesday morning). It is the first time that David's gone away for a longer period like this with one of our boys, so being a single mum to just two boys instead of three is a noticeable difference. We're looking forward to their return on Saturday, but know that they will be tired.

21 March, 2017

How did you become a magazine editor?

Yesterday it was five years since I officially became the managing editor of Japan Harvest.

I often get asked how that came about, especially from missionaries within OMF. So, here is my story.

I have no formal training in writing or editing. My degree was Occupational Therapy. But I have been interested in writing non-fiction for a long time. My first "published article" was as a teen in a small youth group newsletter, as the winner of a competition, writing about my favourite Psalm.

My interest in producing newspaper/magazine-type publications has been fostered while putting together our own monthly prayer letter since 1999. It's something missionaries complain about having to do, but I've always enjoyed.

However, my journey into this job started with discontent and confusion. We came to Japan with my husband focused on teaching missionary kids. I was focused, at the time,  on surviving being a mum to small, lively boys, but willing to help out where I could. I struggled at language school and in our subsequent placing in a church plant. In fact our whole first term in Japan (nearly four years) was a big challenge, one that I very nearly didn't recover from in order to come back to Japan.

Our second term in Japan began with a move to Tokyo (from the northern city of Sapporo). David, my husband, started work at the Christian Academy in Japan and immediately felt he'd found what God had been leading him to. I, on the other hand, was stuck at home with little, energetic boys in this huge metropolis, knowing almost no one and speaking less than adequate Japanese. Our boys were two months, nearly two years, and 6 years old when we arrived. Up to my ears in being a stay-at-home mum, I also threw myself into making Japanese friends at the local kindergarten where our eldest began that year. 

As time went on I started asking God why he'd called me to Japan without giving me excellent Japanese. I imagined that that's what a missionary should have, and I simply didn't. Nor did I have the energy to try to get it. By the end of each day, the only time I had for focused study, I was exhausted. Not only that, but with my husband working full-time and out of the house from 7.30 to 5.30, I was very limited in what I could manage with the boys in tow.

God answered my heart's plea by taking me on a journey into writing (in English) and then editing and now managing a magazine. I've written a little bit about that journey here in "Finding my sweet spot". Here's an excerpt:
Eventually I rediscovered that I’d been uniquely made. I remembered that God had called me to Japan already knowing my strengths and weaknesses. So my question became: What possible purpose could he have for me with the abilities and gifts he had given me?

Within a few months I received several encouragements to pursue writing. I stumbled upon a small group of Christian writers on the internet who offered to help me improve. Since then I’ve had a number of articles published in different magazines and received a lot of encouragement. I also picked up other small things I was able to do well, not only without the need of excellent Japanese, but also without needing to leave home. This was such an encouragement to me.
I wrote here in more detail about my writing journey up until 2012. Here's an excerpt from that post that makes the connection between journeying as a writer and getting into editing:
I did a short writing course over the Internet. On that course I wrote an article [Crying in the Snow] that I eventually submitted to Japan Harvest, the magazine of the Japan Evangelical Missionary Association (JEMA). The editor of the magazine was impressed enough to imply he'd like me to be involved with the magazine somehow. 

A couple of years later I took him up on that as I pondered what my ministry in Japan would look like once I had all the boys at school. After discussions, he decided to appoint me as the Associate Editor of Japan Harvest.
My involvement in the critique group (I mentioned them above as "a small group of Christian writers") developed my editing "muscles". As a group we submitted work we wanted to publish and everyone else in the group gave their suggestions on how it could be improved, pointed out mistakes etc. That was a challenging place to submit work, but also to submit critiques. However, it turned out to be a great place to grow as a writer and an editor. As I saw what successful writers with a critical mind said about my work and what they said about others' work—I learned what to look for. By the way, I'm still involved in this little group (it really is little now, just three of us, when I first joined we had about five or six).

Six months after I started helping out with the magazine, in March 2011, a giant earthquake struck Japan and we had a disaster on our hands. While not in the disaster zone, I was "on staff" of a Japan-magazine, and my boss decided we needed to put out a "disaster issue". But he was largely unavailable to help, as he was deeply involved in helping out with the relief effort. So I got thrown in the deep end and acted as the managing editor for that issue.

I learned so much in those couple of months and started on the long road of making changes to the magazine on many fronts, gradually making it a more polished production. A year after that crisis, we finally came to the conclusion that it would be better to call me the managing editor and my boss became the executive editor. It was really a gradual process of me taking on more and more and him gradually letting go. A process that was not easy for either of us.

It's hard to believe that this is where I am now. I've now gained a lot of experience, in not just editing articles, but in many areas, including leading a team, being a manager, and the delicate art of good communication, especially via email. I've learnt about design and more about grammar and punctuation than I ever wanted to know (it's not my strongest suit).

I value my role in supporting missionaries. It isn't always easy to remember—when you are fiddling around with words and punctuation, or having a discussion about the selection of a photo, or setting deadlines, or following-up writers or editors—that through this magazine, I am potentially helping over 900 people. I am so grateful to God for guiding me into this ministry. It's not something I planned, though it is something I vaguely dreamed about

It turns out that I was right—God did call me to Japan with my particular gifting in mind—it's just that it was a little "on the edge of ordinary" and not at all what I expected.