23 August, 2017

We ate the bitter melon (goya)

So I did it. I cooked up the vegetable that our neighbour gave me last week and I have photos to prove it.

On the left: is Teriyaki Pork Stir Fry (this recipe, though with different vegetables and I also added tofu) the one on the right (and also below) is Cantonese Bitter Melon Omelette.

The stir fry was too salty for our tastes (I never add salt to recipes). The recipe was otherwise very nice, I'm just not sure what to do about the salt, which all came from the soy sauce. Can you buy low-salt soy sauce in Japan?

The omelette I liked, though others didn't necessarily. My husband said that if you had a mixed mouthful of egg and vegetable it was fine, though one of our boys couldn't finish it.

All in all, I'm really pleased. I am not usually any good at stir-fries but this one worked well (aside from the saltiness). Everyone got fed and we received few complaints. I cooked two new recipes and used a new, local vegetable that grew over the road from us.
The goya or bitter melon has an amazing shape and made for photogenic cooking, though I didn't get the focus right on this photo (this was before adding the eggs).

22 August, 2017

CAJ Staff family

This was last summer when we enjoyed an evening with another staff
family who have kids around the same age as ours. Thankfully they're
still around and I'm looking forward to seeing them this afternoon.
I'm looking forward to an annual event on our calendar this evening, the start-of-year staff family dinner (I want to say BBQ, but I'm not certain it is actually a BBQ today). Four years ago I wrote a couple of posts about what it was like to be a staff wife at CAJ, things have changed a little since then, but not much.

CAJ Staff Wife Part 1: I wrote about what it was like when we first joined CAJ, a lot different to now, because none of our kids were enrolled at the school, in fact our youngest was only three months old! But it is a somewhat sad post, because those early years for me were difficult.

CAJ Staff Wife Part 2: I wrote about some of the other results of being a staff wife. One of those has also changed. I wrote that "I always have to sit alone at graduation." Well last year I didn't. Staff who have students in the graduating class are allowed to sit with their families. I enjoyed that, even if the whole night was rather surreal! This school year I'll be sitting on my own again.

This year is the eleventh time we've attended this dinner and I look forward to it every year. It's short, but a good time to catch up with some friends I haven't seen for a few months. And yes, quite a number of the teachers I count as friends. We've ended up with quite a number of staff families around the same life-stage as us at the moment, so that's really fun. I'm sure we shake them up a little, because we're the only Australian staff family at the moment at the school.

I've got six more years as a CAJ parent. I am not sure that I'm looking forward to how my relationship with the school will change once our youngest has graduated—I'll be back to being just a staff wife. Ah, a bridge I don't need to cross yet.

21 August, 2017

Shouting in the Shrine

The day has run away with me (lots of editing) and I've not gotten to actually completing a post here (I have started two, though, just not finished them). So I'm going to cheat and give you a link to a post I completed earlier for the OMF Japan blog. 

I shared it today on Facebook and it's been well received, I do recommend you check it out. It's about an elderly Shinto priest in Hokkaido who because a Christian after watching various members of his family become Christians. This is a really encouraging story: https://omf.org/blog/2017/08/05/turning-up-the-volume/

20 August, 2017

How have the summer holidays been?

Summer holidays are rushing to an end and I want to write a little about how things have gone in the realm of time-management for the boys. (See this post about the guidelines we set at the start of the holidays.)
Oyakodonburi or Chicken and Egg on Rice, a favourite Japanese meal of our
middle son. He needed help with this, but it tasted pretty authentic.

Truth is that there has been a lot of electronics. However, there has also been a lot of reading, creativity, and jobs done.

We spent 16 days away in July and those days had very limited amounts of electronics/screen time and lots of reading and board game-time. There were few complaints.

It's been encouraging to see one boy walk away from electronics significantly on most days in the last month.

Exercise has been spotty and I think two boys are going to be sore when they get back to school and cross-country training begins.

Bedtimes have been somewhat managed by us still. Setting limits on when electronics end . . . alas that hasn't stopped some boys staying up to the early hours of the morning reading. Last Monday we instituted a 9 am limit on sleep-ins and tomorrow it will go back to 8 am, then it's 7 am rising on Thursday in preparation for Friday's 8.30 start at school. That has made people grumpy (mostly later in the day when they're tired—they've acquiesced to the early rising times), but hopefully helped them to get to sleep earlier.

Meal cooking has been interesting, and it's been a lot easier to get cooperation than last year. Typical for our household: second time around is better. The boys aren't very creative, in that they've just chosen meals that we usually eat, but they're slowly getting better at cooking main meals (we need to work on speed a bit though—we've had some very late meals). I'm getting better at being the nearby "help desk" rather than getting in the way.

Late-July we did a big change-over of household jobs. That's gone fairly well too, I expected a challenging learning curve, but the boys have moved into their new jobs well: 

  • Washing: As a result David and I are now only responsible for three people's washing (and the sheets and towels). That's a significant change. It's been great to see our new high schooler taking on responsibility for his own washing. He's also now responsible for hanging up the washing for the rest of us, and has done a good job for the most part. It's better now that he's not getting up at midday!
  • Breakfast dishes: Our youngest has done a great job of getting into breakfast washups. Only whinge has been on those days when it is hot enough to make him sweaty or when he hasn't gotten to it before lunch and ends up with some lunch dishes to do too. Next challenge for him will be being organised enough to get it all done before school.
  • House elf: Our eldest doesn't have a set family-related job at this point aside from cooking once a week. We have asked him to help out randomly with washing up at night-time, though. I don't know how this will change. Maybe I'll get him to do some grocery runs when I'm extra busy in the coming months.
Another staff-mum asked me this morning if I was ready for school to start and I heartily said yes. She, however, is in a different life-stage (little ones) and isn't looking forward to her husband being back at school, especially before her kids go back into Japanese kindy. 

I'm glad that these big boys of mine will soon be back at school, they need the routine and challenge. They need the world to not revolve around their own pleasure as much as it does during holiday-time.

I'll also be happy to get my schedule more back under my control. Having them home now is nowhere near as challenging as it was when they were little, but I also have more outside-the-home responsibilities now than I did then. I'll enjoy having less interrupted time, especially in the afternoons. 

Lately I've been getting a bit frustrated at the interruptions and the self-centered assumptions that I should interrupt whatever I'm doing immediately my name is called to attend to whatever they deem is important at that moment (usually these aren't super urgent matters). 

I am torn between being being available and teaching them not to be so self-centred that they assume that whatever they are doing is more important than what I'm doing. Not to mention that they rarely respond immediately when I call their names! 

Then there's the guilt-ridden message that gets showered upon us mums: enjoy them while you have them at home. But they no longer need me constantly and oftentimes what they're asking of me could wait a little while. Not to mention that I can't take 11 weeks off work, nor am I a super-mum—able to work through the night so that I'm available for them all day! So, I'm between a rock and a hard place. A situation that all working mums (and dads) have to deal with.

Anyway enough ranting, I'm just looking forward to having more boundaries in place around my work-life. When they're at school and training—I can work without guilt.

18 August, 2017

Fears and tears

I've had another busy week with work and family commitments. It's amazing to me how my weeks fill up sometimes. I won't give you a blow-by blow account. I've struggled to get to my desk and my to-do list, but it has been a week rich in investing in outside-this-family relationships (which I needed towards the end of these long summer holidays).

This morning, as I've sat down and tried to whittle down that list of work items that needed doing (mostly editing/writing/email), a few niggling thoughts from recent conversations and emails keep poking in. Part of it was the theme of fear. That sounds a bit stark, written just naked like that, but I'm going to explain.

One of the things that I've talked about one-on-one with a couple of friends this week has been dealing with conflict in my work (this has just been in general terms, I'm haven't revealing specifics to my friends). 

I don't like conflict, I avoid it as much as possible, but that is impossible to do all the time in the work I do. My job as an editor is to have opinions and my role in working with many writers is ripe-ground for conflict. My work as I guide a magazine (and now a blog feed for a website) means I have to set standards and guidelines and seek to conform to them. And not everyone likes it where I draw the lines or the opinions that I have, even when I tread softly.

One of my friends reminded me to repeat to myself, "It's not personal."

I find that harder to do in some situations than others. I guess it depends on the "who" and "how" and "what was said". I'm getting better as I get older and more experienced. But I also know that God made me with a sensitive side and I don't wish that away at all, because it gives me empathy for others and it tempers my impulsive side too.

But fear of what people will say about my decisions can paralyse me and make it very difficult to do my work, or to write anything at all. That is something I've been finding myself fighting against, at times, these last few weeks.

The other time that fear came up was when one of my friends insightfully asked about the upcoming year (in the context that we're about to start a new school year) and how I want to grow during that time. Two big upcoming challenges came to mind:

1. My eldest son will most probably leave home to study in another country during the year.
2. We're planning to go on home assignment after the end of this school year (in late June) and last time I moved countries my stress resulted in uncomfortable reflux, the effects of which lingered for months.

My thinking about all of this is that I'm probably more fearful and anxious that I'd like to admit. Moving countries is stressful, but I don't know why I can't be more calm about it. That level of stress I'd like to avoid when we move next year and so, my answer to my friend was that I'd like to survive this year in better shape than I did the last international move in our lives.

She followed up with, "So what 'fills your cup'?" My main thought was deep conversations like the one that I was currently engaged in—with friends. Preferably with coffee in hand!

So we'll see how I go. As God continues to grow me through dealing with conflict in my work and in the stress of major changes in my family, I need to be intentional in seeking good conversations with friends, but also in turning to God.

I don't know where I found this blog post by an Aussie (it was published seven years ago), but it entices me to dig into the Bible again, and lean into another opportunity to cast myself upon God: Praying your fears. Here's just one nugget that I need to follow through on daily: 
We need to relocate our glory: not in our talents or our role, or others' opinion of us, but in God's approval.
Its pair is: Praying your tears, which is also an excellent post. For surely, the fears are often accompanied by tears (for me, in conflict, especially). And another nugget (which I think is a Timothy Keller quote):
Weeping is fine. Weeping and grief is fine. Weeping and disappointment is fine ... but weeping in self-pity will make you a small little person, someone who can't forgive, someone who is always feeling ill-used, someone who gets incredibly touchy and incredibly over-sensitive. ... Look at the cross and say, "... My sufferings are nothing compared to yours. If you suffered for me I can be patient with this suffering for you."
But now I need to get back to my work—looking at people's words and deciding what to do about them.

17 August, 2017

Missionary Identity

Here's another thing that I did early in the summer—write three guest blog posts for our UK office about different aspects of identity that missionaries struggle with. 

The OMF office in the UK follows my blog and asked me to write a post on this topic for them. But when I sat down to write, I found there was way too much to say to fit into just one post, so I asked if I could write a series of three, and they agreed. 

These were published over three weeks in July:

16 August, 2017

Wednesday Words

I've been having fun since early May by putting up a once-a-week Facebook status I've called Wednesday Words. 

This photo was taken at the women's retreat I went to in
March. It's an illustration of the international environment
I work in. Here we have people from Germany, Singapore,
Ireland, US, Canada, and Australia. And I'm pretty sure at
least one of these ladies wasn't born in the country that they
are a citizen of. Two of them are also married to men from
other countries (Japan and Cambodia).
Under that title, I've been asking people to comment with words from their English background, specifying a certain category each week. I started out quite broad, with topics like food, clothes, nouns, verbs, and prepositions. But recently have gotten more specific like real estate words, abbreviations, occupations. I've had a great time doing it and regularly get upwards of 70 comments on a post.

It's been great to have a safe place to exchange these without exchanging blows.

Here are just a few things I've learned:

  • snow peas (Aust) = Mange tout (UK)
  • My team is winning (US) = My team are winning (Commonwealth)
  • Clean your teeth twice a day (Commonwealth) = Brush your teeth twice a day (US)
  • He's in hospital (Commonwealth) = He's in the hospital (US) [Though this is a bit complex, I might say the latter if there were only one hospital.]
  • Crossing guard (US) = Lollypop lady (Commonwealth) = Scholar Patrol (South Africa)
  • Hospitalist (US for a doctor who specialises in the care of patients in hospital)
  • General Practitioner or GP (Commonwealth) = Primary Care Physician or PCP (US)
  • Professor (Australia) = Department Chair (US). [This one is also a bit complicated, in Australia a professor is a higher title than in the US.]
  • I'm free on Wednesday (Commonwealth) = I'm free Wednesday (US)
  • Meeting one-on-one (US/Aust) = Meeting on-to-one (British)
  • Outwith (Scottish?) = Outside of (every other form of English?)
  • Take a shower (US) = Have a shower (Australian)
  • I'm working 9 while 5 (Northern UK) = I'm working 9 till 5 or 9 to 5 (other English)
  • One step on (Commonwealth) = One step beyond (US)
There's quite a lot there, and some I'm still not that clear on. Many of the things that come up in these discussions I'm familiar with, but it's great to learn more of the subtle variations. I've also got friends from the UK and Northern Ireland who bring up a whole variety of very regional-specific vocabulary and usage points.

This is a good learning opportunity for me, as I regularly edit the written work of people from a variety of English backgrounds. Our editing policy is that we try to edit to the English background that the author comes from. So, for example, an Australian would not have to change their spelling to US spelling. However, we do try to use vocabulary that the majority of our international audience will know, so we don't allow a word such as "sparkie" (Australian slang for electrician).

I've been a little surprised at how much attention this particular Facebook status has received. I've had people tell me they go looking for this post on Wednesdays. Others who've suggested topics or brought it up in conversation. It works on my FB feed because I have friends from a variety of countries, though I haven't received many comments from Canadians, Singaporeans, New Zealanders or other English-background speakers. Mostly just US, UK, and Australians.

I'm happy to receive suggestions for topics for the future!

This week's Wednesday Word topic is children and parenting. For example, the other day I commented about a US/Japanese friend's new "pram". She was a little bit surprised, as no one had yet called it that, though she understood what I meant. "Stroller" I think, was her word, though other words you could use are "baby car", "buggy", "carriage", "pushchair", depending on what your local English preference is.