24 August, 2016

Working through the summer

This is the simple sewing project that I mentioned as a
pie-in-the-sky idea. A table runner. It's a little bit too long,
but we're coping with that.
I'm feeling pretty pleased with what I've -achieved in the last month. On 21st July I wrote this post when we'd been back from camping only a few days and I was trying to get back into working amidst a sea of holidayers i.e. everyone else in my family. 

Below is the list that sat beside my computer all summer and been helping me stay focused. As you can see almost everything is crossed off. 

One of the two that aren't is an ongoing professional development project, but I've already made significant progress on that. 

The other should be finished soon. I just need to get motivated to sort out an assignment I'm writing about conflict. Then I need to sort out some organisation things  to get it submitted (I'm supposed to share the three assignments I've written with colleagues or line managers, but so many of the relevant people seem to be on home assignment or otherwise engaged).
It wasn't easy, but I managed. Whenever the pressure built up and I felt like I was running on the spot I spent a morning or afternoon a coffee shop and always came away feeling re-energised (and it wasn't just the coffee). That only happened one or two times a week. Mind you, I haven't been working at 100%. Sleep-ins have been the norm (sorry if that makes you feel jealous). So despite working through the summer I'm feeling relatively rested.  
We also did some family outings: Odaiba (man-made island in the bay), Costco, and a few meals with other families. We didn't get to the Japanese Sword Museum. Maybe another time.

Now school is starting the day after tomorrow and I'm in a good spot in terms of stuff achieved! Maybe I'll have some more holidays after they've gone back to school? (Shhhh, don't tell them.) I've even got a coffee date organised to start off my "holiday from boys" i.e. school.

23 August, 2016

Prime Minister Mario?

It was a surprise to see Japan's Prime minister participating in the closing ceremony in Rio posing as Mario. I didn't actually see the closing ceremony till hours after it happened, so I had some warning via social media. But I wasn't the only one surprised:

Japan on Monday reacted with a mix of surprise, delight and cynicism at the sight of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dressed up as video game icon Super Mario in a comical cameo at the close of the Rio Olympics.
Social media immediately lit up as scenes of Abe wearing a Super Mario costume proved jaw-dropping to Japanese watching the spectacle on television half a world away.
“I was impressed to see a national leader sacrificing his reputation and showing up in cosplay at this world event,” posted a Japanese-language Twitter user. “He is great.”
Most had apparently never conceived of the normally blue-suited and politically conservative Abe and the moustachioed Mario merging into one. 
“I never thought of having Prime Minister Abe play Mario, let alone him emerging from plumbing,” another Twitter user said. (see the rest of the article here)
Another article by the BBC gives various other perspectives, including Twitter requests for Pokemon to be a sport in 2020! But this article does highlight the clues we got as to how Japan might approach hosting the next Olympics. "full and shameless advantage of Japan's pop culture icons". 

But there was also an emphasis on technology, with the appearance of robot-dressed actors. Just like most well-known countries, Japan is known by various stereotypes, including robots, technology, anime, manga, and not to forget sushi. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it is these that are used to promote the country.

Surfing the net doing a little bit of research for this post, I came across a quote about Tokyo2020 from Hikariko Ono, a spokesperson from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Committee:
"Everybody can experience hypermodern living and respect for historic values in Tokyo" (from here).
Well, I don't know about hypermodern living. Perhaps some visitors in down-town hotels will see that. That wouldn't be typical Japan, though it is the image that they want to project to the world, but I guess the Olympics generally aren't about giving visitors a typical experience of the host country. 

From the same article it does sound like they have very grand, futuristic plans. We'll see how much of that actually happens:
"Japan is known internationally for its technological innovations, so Tokyo 2020 organizers are aiming to launch ambitious tech projects that will boost the economy and wow crowds."
In writing this, I found the Tokyo2020 website. Interesting, including where venues are planned. Many of them around the bay near and even on the artificial island we visited a few weeks ago. I've never been living in a city that has the Olympics coming. It will be an interesting four years! Already we're seeing lots of train stations undergoing renovation and renewal. I imagine we'll see a lot more of that in the coming years. 

We've enjoyed the Olympics for the most part. Though we did see some lamentable behaviour from coaches and athletes. (A bizarre one that I don't think has received much air time was a bronze medal wresting match where a Mongolian wrestler didn't wrestle to the end and was penalised so that he ended up losing. His coaches stripped to their underwear in protest. Hmmm. Bad sports!)

We enjoyed the wrestling generally, though. Did you see the plush toy that the coaches were using for signalling they wanted to protest a decision? 

I'm glad to have my life simplified again so that I'm not fighting between the desire to watch more Olympics and get work done. Though I must say I'm looking forward to seeing a bit of the Paralympics, I hope that Japan's national broadcaster is as liberal in their coverage of it as they were the Olympics.

22 August, 2016

Application for permission

This afternoon we filled out an 
Seriously, that's what the name of the form is in English. 

Our eldest son has been working at school for the maintenance department in the last week preparing the campus for the return of students on Friday. He's enjoyed a great variety of tasks, from changing batteries in clocks, to inventorying the numbers of chairs and tables in rooms, to pressure-cleaning walkways. He's not under contract, just casual, working the number of hours he wants to work. 

Because he's on a dependent's visa and being paid to do all this, we need to tell the Immigration Department. It's a little strange that you don't fill this form out until you have an employer. They don't ask anything about when you start or how much you're paid, so the fact that he's already been working prior to putting the form in doesn't seem to be an issue. As far as we know, the only restriction is on how much you can work (maximum of 28 hours per week). 

I guess when I go down there next week I'll find out if I need to do anything else other than just hand the form in.

Another reminder that we are but guests in this country.

21 August, 2016

Where have you been camping?

We're periodically asked about where we've been camping in Japan, and it's becoming a hard question to answer. In total, we've camped at 20 different campsites in Japan, a handful of those we've camped at twice.

We now have our eyes on further north: Tohoku. Maybe next summer?

I saw this short article today comparing the benefits of material wealth and those of travel. It basically said that getting new stuff makes us happy for a short while, but that wears off. However the joys of travelling stays with us for many years. I would agree. We've got many stories from our five years of camping. Good memories and bad, but certainly a lot of joy.

Of course I know the true source of happiness is not found in either things or experiences but in being in relationship with God. But I do not believe that we are not supposed to derive happiness from owning new things or from interesting experiences.

20 August, 2016

My God the rock

I've had over a thousand views of my post yesterday. That's intimidating. I always find it difficult to write here just after I've poured my heart out in a particularly deep way like I did yesterday. 

However I'm going to keep writing, because if I don't those rare posts that touch many people don't seem to come at all, I just get out of the habit of writing.

Today's been a little unusual. Our eldest got up at 3.30am and left soon after to climb Mt Fuji, the first of our family to ever do so. The rest of us were going to go west to a nice river spot to play and picnic with some friends. 

However we woke to steady rain. The picnic was moved to our friends' house and the time pushed later. So we hung around home till mid-morning. Both Japanese freestyle male wrestlers wrestled overnight, so all their bouts were replayed this morning. It was really good to watch them. One got silver, the other didn't make it through to the medals.

Then we picked up another family and drove to lunch. It was a casual, enjoyable time. All three families hung out last year at wrestling and track meets, it was nice to spend some more time together. And I'm sure there's more coming as those sporting seasons come up again this school year. We ladies are talking about plans to go to Korea in February for the "Far East" regional wrestling finals!

After writing out my sadness yesterday it was great to spend a day appreciating the friends I do have, even if they haven't known me very long.

One of the comments about my blog post yesterday was from an old flat mate who said she understood the analogy and that it was a good one, but as she looked at the colandar, she also saw a vessel of strength.

That was a profound comment. It is true. Colandars do have a lot of strength. You can pour a lot of hot water through one and it doesn't crack or fall apart.

It is gutting to keep losing friends as we do, however, it can make us stronger (it can also weaken us to a point of breaking down). The shock is great when we first move away from our home support system, because it is all ripped away at the same time. It does get recreated over time in a different fashion, but in a patchwork style that constantly has patches ripped off to be replaced by other patches. 

Some patches stay the same and those we deeply appreciated, like a friend who also commented about this post in FB saying, "I don't think it's ever occurred to me that your friends and acquaintances move around as much as you and your family do. Sending love and a 38-year-old friendship xx."

But, I think that for those of us who have a relationship with Jesus, our newly created patchwork support system has a greater ratio of reliance of God in it than we ever had before we came. For we can say, 
"But the Lord has become my stronghold,
    and my God the rock of my refuge" (Ps 94:22, ESV).

19 August, 2016

The colander of expat life

On my computer  this morning I have an email from someone enquiring about serving long term with our mission. One of the questions is "What would be the cost?" I know what the true question is, he's asking about financial cost. But my mind jumps to the larger cost.

You see I'm in mourning. Actually I think most long-term missionaries are in some level of mourning most of the time. The cost people initially think of is all the family and friends we said goodbye to when we first left our home country. But they don't see that it was more than that, we said goodbye to a lot more when we first left. We said goodbye to churches, careers, even cats and cars. We said goodbye to houses and potential relationships, to familiar places and casual acquaintances. We said goodbye to ever being "normal". (Here's a post that includes a longer list of losses I posted earlier this year after my father-in-law passed away.)

But that was just the beginning. When we arrived in our receiving country we said goodbye to fluency, to competency, and to familiarity. We said goodbye to easy worship and fluid daily interactions with our neighbours.

We also said goodbye to a settled life that included lots of time to get to know people, and friends who could conceivably be in our lives for a long time.

We're about to start a new school year. This is more than the majority of my family being at school everyday. This is the start of another cycle of building and maintaining relationships. We've been in flux during the last three months of the summer holidays. People flitting in and out of the city and the country. It's not really been obvious who has gone and who is still here.

But once school starts it becomes more obvious. The familiar faces who aren't here. The new faces who don't know who you're talking about when you mention the familiar faces who were a part of your daily life just three months ago. You pretend that everything is okay, that it is great that we've got new people and not so bad that some are missing. But it does hurt. Sometimes I wonder if, in order to keep going, we don't acknowledge that pain enough.

And there are gaping holes left in your heart from doing this year after year. We've been saying goodbyes now since 2000, nearly 16 years. My heart feels a little ragged.

As one who had a very stable upbringing I find the unexpected losses even harder. It is hard enough that a friend from church told me back in February that they were leaving after several years. I had months to process that, but I'm still sad that she's gone. Every time I ride near her house, or look into the cry room at church where she used to sit with her boys, or see her posts on Facebook. But then there are unexpected losses. Health scares that suddenly force people away or into hospital. Sudden decisions about education that take people back to their passport country. Or even worse, people leaving unexpectedly without any reason given at all.

I've written about this grief before, it's an ongoing theme in our lives. In fact the friend who I mentioned at the beginning of this post about grief has suddenly announced that she won't be here this year. I didn't get to say goodbye.

No, I'm not crying. I'm not devastated or unable to function. But I'm sad. 

I feel like I have a colander of a social life. I want to have more control, but there is no way to do so. I want to cling to who I have, but that isn't fair to them either. I sometimes struggle to have nice feelings about the people who supposedly replace the ones who have left, because they never really do. And I know the struggle to trust someone new with my heart, after all they will probably leave soon too!

I know that the grief of having to move countries is harder than what we are dealing with here, but still, I want to acknowledge that the missionaries and others like locals who we are in relationship with, those stay are grieving too. The grieving goes on and one, as every year someone or multiple people leave temporarily or permanently.

So now I will reply to this man who sent me this email this morning, who wants to bring his family, with three kids under seven, to Japan to serve with our mission. I won't be totally honest with him, though. I can't tell him what it will really cost him to choose to come to Japan.

Here's another post you might be interested in about the cost of missionary life. It is more about the goodbyes at the end of a period of time in your passport country, but it acknowledges more than that: http://velvetashes.com/the-cost-is-real/

18 August, 2016

Baking this summer

I've done a bit of baking recently, despite the heat. I think the guys eat less food, though, when they're on holidays. Sleeping late and generally being less active means they've been eating less snacks.
My recipe, pulled out of a magazine, like many of my
sweet recipes. The end result didn't look like that, though.

We had guests last weekend and I tried a new recipe: chocolate pavlova. Alas I messed up and it turned into a chocolate eggy sauce with a thin meringue crust on top. I didn't have any, I was so disappointed, but three guys had seconds. I believe one boy said it was the tastiest mistake he'd ever eaten. 
This was the Chocolate Pavlova Flop!

For snacks I made this chocolate oat slice a couple of weeks ago. It's lasted a long time (they're really eating less snacks) but is very tasty. Lovingly referred to as a chocolate hamburger biscuit by one boy!

These have mixed fruit in them (not choc chips) and were very easy. They don't look amazing but are very tasty. 

Then today I made Chunky Fudge Icecream. It's chilling just now so I don't have a verdict yet, but the scrapings off the bowl tasted pretty good!

This is Festive Fudge, the source of the fudge chunks for the icecream. Such a pity that we only needed a small portion of this. I guess we'll just have to eat the rest on its own!