31 December, 2009

Looking back at 2009

It is somewhat traditional to look back over the year on New Year's Eve. Here are a few things that came to mind yesterday as I thought about 2009:
  • Lots of transition, mostly surrounding our move to Australia for home assignment. Change of country, house, schools, roles, and even time without children.
  • Our youngest began attending Pre-Prep or kindergarten 3 days a week. For the first time in 10 years, I've had regular child-free time.
  • Two new nephews born into our families.
  • Some answers about one of our sons.
  • First time in several years that we've been together with all our families.
  • Trip to Manila. As a result of dreaming about the future with our youngest heading off to school, I've been moving in the direction of writing and editing. The foreseeable future involves working with the editor of Japan Harvest, a magazine by and for missionaries in Japan. My trip to Manila was a definitive step towards that goal, attending a Christian magazine editing conference.
  • I began blogging this year. It has been an interesting foray into a different mode of communication with people who support us (and many who don't). My goal - to help people to see what a missionary's life is really like.
  • 40 is coming closer!
I guess my next post will have to be looking forward to 2010!

Food for Thought

The New Year is the greatest festival in Japan. People of all classes and occupations in the entire country celebrate it, but it is an intensely personal family affair. Members share the many firsts of the New Year like the first sunrise; the first shrine visit and the first food. No cooking is done for three days with the exception of the hearty New Years soup. Fish, black beans, rolled omelette and vegetables are prepared in advance and served from beautifully decorated multi-tiered trays. The dishes served to celebrate the New Year have special meanings, and with some variations, are enjoyed in every home in the nation. Datemaki, sweet rolled omelette, symbolises many auspicious days ahead. Kazunoku, herring roe eggs, symbolises fertility and are eaten to fulfil the desire for many children in the family. Kuromame, black soybeans, typifies good health, longevity and the ability to work willingly and skillfully. Tazukuri are small dried sardines cooked in soy sauce. The fish were used historically to fertilize rice paddies, and eating it symbolises a prayer for an abundant harvest. Renkon is lotus root and with its many holes it depicts the idea of ease in seeing through things and perceiving a bright future ahead. To let the overworked stomach rest, nanakusa-gayu, a seven-herb rice soup, is prepared on the 7th and 15th day of January! After three days of families doing everything together, slowly over the next two weeks, work and studies are commenced with new promises, intentions and ideals for the year ahead. Source: Neil Verwey jm@japanmission.org

27 December, 2009

Bits n pieces

We're at the end of a week in my in-law's territory. I choose 'territory' carefully. They all live close or in a small town in central Queensland. A long way from where we usually live. We've hovered between my batchelor (divorced) dad-in-law's place and my sister-in-law's - almost neighbours but about 17 km via a dirt road apart. My mother-in-law has been staying with my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law lives and works in town (40 km away). Lots of 'in-laws! It has been a little weird to try to manage a family around an elderly man who usually lives alone and has his own ways of doing things (and own standards of hygiene). A challenge to help him cook dinner while he's hovering over your shoulder! We haven't done too badly, but we're ready to leave tomorrow. In top of all this, I managed to bite the inside of my cheek a couple of days before Christmas and it became infected. My face has swollen on one side and eating and drinking is pretty painful. Sleep comes after Panedine is injested. Oh the joys. I did get fairly prompt medical attention at the small local hospital, though. Better medical treatment than I've experienced closer to home. The boys have had a great time in the Aussie bush. Tractor rides, introduction to REAL guns, riding 4 wheelers, mowing lawns (yes, they have them - bore water is amazing up here), dogs, cows, utes, water fights etc. We are glad they can connect with rural Australia. Neither of us were brought up in the country, but our parents did and we therefore spent parts of holidays in the country and feel some sort of connection with that part of our large country. It is a good experience for any kid growing up in the city, especially in a foreign country, but who lays claim to being Australian.

26 December, 2009

Aussie Jingle Bells

Wondering about Christmas in Australia? Here is a small slice:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tz_KlcDXvqQ

24 December, 2009

Christmas contrasts

Last Christmas we were in cold Toyko. No snow, but still close to zero degrees outside. We ate a baked dinner with friends we'd known less than six months. The closest we got to family was on Skype. When we looked out the window we saw one or more houses very close by. This Christmas we are in rural Australia. Sweltering in heat hot enough to make running around outside under sprinklers a fun activity. We're spending it with family - most of whom have known most of us since birth. Cold ham, salad and pudding is on the menu. When we look out the windows of the house we're staying in, we cannot see any other house. No tarred road in sight, in fact. No internet access either. Lots of contrasts, in fact the two experiences are about as far apart as is possible. However, there is more than one similarity. Of course we are celebrating the same event, the birth of Jesus Christ our saviour. But there's another: a small degree of loneliness. That might be obvious for our life in Japan, but here in country Australia there is very little understanding of our life in Japan. Our passion for the Japanese just seems odd to most. We do our best to fit in with our family, but we really are the odd ones out. Nevertheless, we are really enjoying this Christmas in Australia. There is much more familiarity to it than we usually experience at Christmas time. We're relaxing and having a good time. I won't be back online for a while, so here's wishing you a happy and very special Christmas.

18 December, 2009

Adjusting to Christmas with family

We're on the road. Visiting our siblings and parents - all of whom live out of town. My side of the family this weekend. It is challenging to be physically with your relatives - even those you grew up with - when you haven't had that kind of relationship for some time. We've spent most of the last decade away from them and we've all changed and grown-up (and had six kids between me and my two sisters). I left home when my sisters were 10 and 13. Sometimes I feel like they are strangers. Now we have husbands and small children getting reacquainted seems like a large abyss that is hard to cross. Is it just me or once you have kids it gets even more difficult to be with relatives? Everyone has different ideas and standards and when you are closely related you feel less inhibited in imposing your ideas on others. Not to say that we've having a terrible time. Just that it is yet another adjustment we have to make. Another one that people often forget about. Tomorrow we're having my family's Christmas Day - present exchanges, big meal, etc. Next week on the actual day we'll be with David's family. More people to relate to and live with for a short time. At least I don't have to cook Christmas dinner this year. It was fun this morning to be in the kitchen again with Mum, like old times! And tomorrow won't be lonely - as our Christmases in Japan can tend towards.

15 December, 2009

Ninth anniversary

Yesterday we noted it was nine years since the day we landed in Japan as missionaries. Amazing. We've packed a lot into nine years. That day nine years ago involved four airports and three planes. All with a 20 month old. We began the day in steamy Singapore and ended it about 40 degrees cooler in Sapporo, with snow on the ground and below zero temperatures. Looking back it is actually amazing we survived our first winter in Japan. We were in a tiny, freezing apartment. We had no car, no TV or video player. Very few toys and limited personal space. To buy groceries, I had to trudge for about 15 minutes through snow on foot, carefully select our groceries (without much Japanese language), pack them in my backpack and plastic sled and carry/pull them all the way home. Since then we've lived nearly eight years in Japan. Most of them with a car! We've moved twice within Japan and moved back to Australia twice for home assignment. We've had two more children, one of them born in Japan. We spent more than two years in full-time (or nearly full-time in my case) language study, 15 months in a church planting team and four years with my husband teaching at the Christian Academy in Japan, a school for missionary kids. We've had our children hospitalised three times in total (in Japan), not counting the Japanese birth experience. The lessons we've learned in most/all areas of our lives would take more than this post to list. But here are a few that come to mind:
  • It is a privilege to serve our Lord in this way.
  • Dependency on God is a great way to live. Lots of surprises!
  • Life is less predictable that you think.
  • It is not necessary to own a house.
  • "No debt" is a great place to be.
  • International moves are tough.
  • Raising children away from your home culture is very difficult.
  • Missionary is not a synonym for evangelist.
  • We don't have to be like other people - God values us as the individuals he made us to be.
I think we are in a better place than we were nine years ago. I certainly feel more settled with who I am and why I'm here.

14 December, 2009

Aussie Christmas outside

Christmas time in Australia is hot. Did you non-Aussies realise? Therefore it is perfect for outdoor carols concerts. This is one we went to just down the road. It was put on by a church and slightly unusual. Actually not much carols singing, mostly a Christmas musical put on by the church. The musical included some popular songs that you wouldn't usually associate with Christmas like, Herod singing, "You make me want to shout"! Nevertheless it was a lovely evening. The evening finished off with the inevitable fireworks.

Stressed out Australians

At times in the last week, our house has been full of tension, more so than usual. Why?
  • It's hot (mid to high 30s C which is around 100 degrees F). This means not only the kids get frayed, but their parents do too.
  • School holidays. The boys have again needed to learn to live with each other all day, every day. Us too!
  • They are excited about Christmas coming. This is a usual problem. School finishing three weeks before Christmas is new for them.
  • Change is in the air - we're leaving soon to visit family in rural Queensland.
We're definitely not the only ones effected. When I've been out recently I've noticed a lot of tension and weariness, especially in parents. Actually I've been quite shocked at some of the things I've heard mums say to kids - in public. I can't imagine how abusive they are in private. Last week while grocery shopping I walked past a double pram - the sort where the kids sit behind one another - and it began to tip backwards with its young passenger and load of groceries. I caught it, held it and looked back up the aisle for the mum. She didn't even acknowledge me. She came back and abused her older child for getting out of the front of the pram. I walked away feeling ashamed at witnessing such a lack of gratitude and such hostility towards the child she is supposed to care for. It did make me think about some of the things that happen in our own house. While we love our children dearly, occasionally things come out of our mouths that just should never be uttered. I think we get scared at the lack of control over our kids and let our mouths loose with whatever we think will make the kids listen to us. I know we're not the only ones. It only happens sometimes in our house, I wonder about the precious souls of the kids to whom it happens constantly. Who are constantly put down, abused and ridiculed. There is a lot of stress in this season. Materialism and commercialism have a lot to answer for. They make us think that spending lots of money for expensive presents equals love and if we don't then we will be judged as unloving. Expectations of wonderful family Christmases almost always fall a little flat. Some don't have family. Many have family who don't get along most of the time and are suddenly thrown together for some "happy family" charade at Christmas. As parents we do our best to provide a fun Christmas for our children, but many times Christmas is full of fighting and over excited, over sugared kids. I AM trying to be a joyful presence wherever I go. After all we know that it is not actually about all the things we think it is about - presents, food, good family relationships or even pretending we're having a good time, when we're really just stressed out and exhausted. So why shouldn't Christians do our best to be happy and spread joy? We're celebrating our Saviour's birthday.

12 December, 2009

The week in review

First week of school holidays is finished. How'd it go? It was a much more social week than usual. With no school hour limits, we had people over most nights. Very pleasing to my extrovert's soul. We got to go to Movie World with my parents and nephew. There were no school lunches to make and no basketball practise or games to attend. On the down side, the boys hated the sight of each other at times. I still had gym, groceries and a doctor's visit - so I got out of the house, leaving my hubbie and three boys to their own devices. From the sounds of it, it hasn't always gone so peacefully for them. This morning hubbie has taken the last resort of exercise - he's grabbed his bike and taken off for some peace and head space. Not the nicest of options because we basically live on a hill in a hilly suburb - so wherever you go it is a challenge to his legs which haven't seen much bike riding in the last seven months. Also, the temperatures are in the 30s (Celsius). The last two days we've driven 45 minutes to get medicals as a part of getting clearance to go back to Japan. That equates to two afternoons sitting in a doctor's waiting room - with three boys. The upside of that was the blissful air conditioning. And that it was just down the road from a friend who was able to 'drop in' and help entertain boys yesterday. I had a blood test and Swine Flu immunisation yesterday too. The heat got to me on Wednesday and I developed a migraine, unfortunately on the night that our best friends came over (with their 4 boys and one girl). After they left I crashed, but not soon enough to avoid throwing up a couple of hours later. It hasn't been too bad, but I'm hoping that next week will be better (ever an optimist). This time next week we'll be having our first "Christmas Day" celebration with my side of the family. Let's hope adult-sized extended family-type tensions don't become too big an issue.

11 December, 2009

Another fact of life for missionaries

Yesterday and today our family have trooped over to the other side of Brisbane for medicals. We cannot go back to Japan unless we pass these. This morning I also had a lovely blood test before breakfast. At least this time we don't require x-rays.
We have frequent medicals - as in every two years. Talking with a friend in the armed forces the other day, we figured out that the medicals our mission requires are more detailed than the Australian armed forces require! OMF International really does value its human resources and does a good job of making sure its workers are physically up to the rigours of missionary life. Of course, work in Japan is quite different to work in rural Cambodia. In Cambodia a small medical issue can require airlifting out! So yesterday when I sat down with the doctor's practice nurse he was quite puzzled as to why we had these detailed medicals to do. Basically it comes down to a blanket policy across the board, no matter where you work. However, you might be surprised at some of the difficulties we have encountered with the Japanese medical system. Some areas of the system are very modern, but others are less so. After our second son was born in Japan, it was such a difficult experience that we did our very best to have our third child in Australia (I could write a whole series of posts on having a child in Japan!) So there are medications which we easily get across the counter here in Australia, but which require doctor's prescription in Japan. Then again in Thailand, I know, there are some very powerful drugs available without doctor's prescriptions! The other thing I was surprised by was the exclamation at my waist size and BMI. I haven't changed much in weight or size since these medicals began 12 years ago, but this is the first time someone exclaimed at how "not fat" I am! Amazing, particularly as I'm not actually terribly skinny. Scary, though, that the doctor rarely sees BMIs under 25!

10 December, 2009

More information please

Sometimes other people want more information that we know, like "How long will you remain in Japan?". Our missionary journey over the last nearly 12 years has taught us to cope with a fair bit of uncertainty, but often we also want more information than we know. Our current not-enough-information situation is how long our next term in Japan is likely to be. So it was an encouragement to read this in our quiet time this morning:
I know who holds the future, And I know who holds my hand; With God things don't just happen- Everything by Him is planned. Smith
Backed up by this from scripture:
"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:6
Praise God that He knows and it is not all up to us!

09 December, 2009

Kid's Musings December 09

I recently put my two oldest to work road-testing my recent newsletter for kids - Kid's Musings. This is what they were working on: (This is page two. Page one is about different Japanese words and concepts that have made it into the English language) Let me know if you'd like it for your kids too.

08 December, 2009

Our day at Movie World*

We opened the wallet and went to Movie World yesterday. Yes, it hurt, but we did it as cheaply as we could. We didn't buy any food (except for cheap icy poles) or drink. We took grandparents who bought each of the boys a souvenir (to be fair, we didn't expect that they buy the boys anything - that was their call). But the boys weren't asking for us to buy stuff for them. Perhaps they didn't realise - we didn't take them into the shops? Or perhaps it is because we don't make a habit of buying stuff for them? Low point?
  • We lost a boy...and found him again. Even with four adults and a one-to-one ratio on boys (we had my sister's 5 y.o. too), we managed to lose a child. At one of the shows our 4 y.o. and his cousin were at the front playing with bubbles from the show when the show ended and adults streamed past the kids on their way out. Apparently our 4 y.o. got carried away in the flow and ended up somewhere completely different. Thankfully a kind couple took him to the lost child place and we eventually headed there too after ascertaining he wasn't in the immediate vicinity of the show. Always a heart stopping moment, when you lose a child!
High point?
  • Seeing our middle child, who is usually first-time-negative (meaning the first time he encounters something new, be it food or people or a place, he is tentative and usually not interested in saying "yes"), warm to the experience and go on most of the age appropriate rides. (That is a shocking sentence, sorry.)
Disappointment?
  • The lack of enthusiasm of the park's staff. At such a place, when you've paid large bickies to get in, you expect the staff will embrace you into an exciting experience. Most of the employees, however, seemed like they were counting the time until the end of their shift and they could get away from these annoying patrons.
Take away value?
  1. Time spent with extended family is always valuable. Living in another country, we don't get to see them that often. We also never know when their (or our) time on earth will be over, so every moment together is valuable.
  2. Building memories for our kids. We don't live a lifestyle that enables us to accumulate heaps of stuff. But memories are totally portable and never need packing or storing.
*For non-Aussies - MovieWorld is a Warner Brothers theme park here in South East Queensland.

06 December, 2009

You're FROM Japan?

Yesterday we went to a birthday party for a pre-Prep (kindy) friend of our 4 y.o. The first Australian kids birthday party we've been free to attend. It was cute to see two of our children greeted by hugs from (female) classmates. Even more interesting was the opportunity to stand around and chat with parents we've only seen in passing over the last six months. Several had heard rumours that we had some association with Japan, but didn't know what to think. I wonder if that is why they never said much more than, "Hi", because such a rumour is hard to fathom! I found out that one child had gone home and said their new classmate (our 4 y.o.) was "from Japan". You can imagine his mother's face when she saw our son - blond and blue eyed. She thought it was just another 4 y.o. non-nonsensical conversation. Another child brought home the news that our 7 y.o. had been absent for a day because "he's gone back to Japan"...for a day? You can see how our family easily gets surrounded in a mystery that renders casual conversation before and after school (and even at a party) potentially awkward!

04 December, 2009

Early Christmas present

I received an early Christmas present this week. Our eldest son, who struggled to adjust to his new school these last six months asked, "Will we go back to the same school next time we come back to Australia?" Later the significance of that exchange hit me and I clarified it with him, "Do you mean that you like your school now?" "Yes" they all chorused. Ahh, thank you Lord.

03 December, 2009

Recipe for fudge

Sorry, it was a bit rude of me to not include the recipe earlier. Here it is: One Bowl Chocolate Fudge 450 g chocolate chips 395g can of sweetened condensed milk 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (optional) Microwave chocolate and milk on high for 1.5 minutes. Stir, then microwave 1 minute more till chocolate is melted (Don't overcook. It was warm enough this afternoon to only need the 1.5 minutes). Stir in vanilla and walnuts. Spread in foil-lined 20 cm square pan/tin. Refrigerate for 30 minutes and the cut, but leave in pan. Refrigerate for 1.5 hours more or until firm then remove from pan. Hint - cut into tiny pieces because it is very rich! r

Chocolate fudge

Mmmm...chocolate fudge. My 4 y.o. and I made the easiest chocolate fudge this afternoon and we got our rewards for afternoon tea - delicious!

Joke's on you

I'm laughing on the inside. My 10 y.o. has had a great teacher these last six months in Australia. I knew it but my son just proved it to us. Last night the upper primary school had their presentation evening - when they presented an item (music and drama combined) and they were presented with various awards. The Year Fives did an item about Queensland's history, set in the 1860s. Our son scored an interesting part - an old man of 105 who limped around on the stage and carked it (Aussie for "died") towards the end. He did a good job, better than I expected. I asked him how he'd gotten the role and he said, "When my teacher was allocating roles, he asked the class who wanted to be the old man. No one volunteered." I often read to them towards the end of dinner and our eldest frequently interrupts the story by making wisecracks or miming a particularly graphic part of the story. It turns out this is what he was doing while the teacher was looking for volunteers. The joke turned back on our son as he drew attention to himself and got volunteered for a job he didn't want. He lost sleep over it early on - certain an injustice had been done to him. But after a lot of practise he got over the performance anxiety and did a great job. You gotta laugh when the class clown gets what he is seeking, but in the end doesn't really want - people's attention!

01 December, 2009

Help to go around the world in 80 minutes

Next month we're helping lead a Scripture Union camp for grades six to eight. One of our responsibilities is to organise and run an International Night, otherwise called "80 minutes around the world". It's okay to volunteer for these things, now we need to get down to details and with only one day left until our youngest is home for the holidays and three days until the rest of the mob turn up, we'd better get cracking. What I'm looking for is some international feedback here. I know that some of you don't live in Australia. Can you help me? We particularly need: 1. Easy international snack ideas 2. Activity ideas for international stations - like the Japan 'station' might have some origami to do and the Chinese stall might have a chopsticks activity. As you can see, I'm a little Asian-biased. How about some European/South American/North American/African/Indian ideas - anyone?

30 November, 2009

CAJ must read my blog!

The Christian Academy in Japan (where my husband usually works) must read this blog! They put this in their weekly bulletin which came out today:
Why don't we put in a grass playing field? We will be redoing the drainage and surface of our playing field in December. After extensive research and consultation with competing contractors, it was determined that any sort of grass surface would not hold up to the three seasons of sports, daily playground use, and weekend and other activities including parking. Artificial turf surfaces were considered but are very expensive both to install and maintain, as well as to replace.
I wonder what the new surface will look like then?

29 November, 2009

Church in a shed

Today we helped run a church service in a shed on someone's property. Unfortunately the temperatures were in the high 30s (Celcius). It was stinking! I have to admit I felt as flat at the people who were facing me as I spoke. I just hope something of what I said made a difference for someone. In the midst of it all we mentioned that there is no grass on playgrounds in Japan - at Japanese schools as well as at the school my husband works at - Christian Academy in Japan. A bloke came up to us afterwards and admitted he was the groundkeeper for a local school. He wondered why no grass. The place we were meeting has been in drought for quite a number of years. He wondered if a lack of rain might be the answer - but no, most of Japan gets more than sufficient rain. Perhaps the amount of traffic the grass needs to endure? Perhaps it is just a cultural thing. Strange, really, that Australia is addicted to grass (and swimming pools) when our rainfall is so low in so many places. Traditional? It would be difficult for most Australians to imagine going to school without a grassy oval to play on!

27 November, 2009

Reverse culture shock...still

Today I went looking for chopsticks. I'm amazed that large shops which stock quite a variety of international food do not also sell chopsticks - or at least as far as I was able to determine! Tomorrow we head out to a town called Bell about three hours from here. A very small town where friends of ours are ministering in the Presbyterian church. We hope we can be of encouragement to the folk out there. It will certainly be an fun to see our friends again. But now it is nearly past my Cinderella hour, I'd better go and pack...

26 November, 2009

Finally it all fits together

After four long years of being messed up at this time of year, everything finally lines up.
  • It is hot.
  • We have Christmas carols playing.
  • The Christmas cakes have fruit in them.
  • Schools are breaking up for the year - the end of the school year.
  • and the icing on the cake, so to speak:
  • Cricket is playing on (free-to-air) TV in the background.
Ahh, music for my soul. All the dots are connected and I actually know what time of year it is at at snap. And Mum wanted to know if I wanted a traditional roast for Christmas - no way! Give me a hot day with a cold meal followed by a snooze. Purrfect.

25 November, 2009

Hermit crabs still live

Just to let you know, the hermit crabs still live! This is Jessica, formerly known as Sarah, however "Jessica" seems to have stuck. The intense interest in them has died down, but they are still valued members of the household. They are particularly entertaining when they fight over a spot (usually a corner) in the crabitat or over some food. Their favourite foods seem to be apple and cornflakes.

23 November, 2009

Shopping moods

This morning it took me longer to do the groceries than usual. I found myself in rather a dreamy, floating kind of mood. Sometimes when I'm shopping I'm all business. Occasionally I get visually (or auditory) overload and can't wait to get out. Other times I'm in a spendthrift mood, ready to compare every product to save a cent. Occasionally I'm much closer to the mood that shopping centres want me to be in - happy to spend and just a little bit impulsive. Different kinds of moods are required for different types of shopping. For example, Christmas shopping cannot be done in a spendthrift mood. Careful spending is obviously required, but if you enter a shopping centre not willing to spend any money at all, then not much Christmas shopping will be done, will it? However a business-like approach to weekly grocery shopping works best and most efficiently. So here's some questions for you: 1. What sort of moods do you encounter when shopping? List up to five. 2. When do you do your best present shopping? 3. Where do you prefer to shop? (on-line, large shopping centre, small strip mall etc) 4. How do you move out of negative non-shopping mood when shopping is essential (maybe you don't have this problem, but I do)?

Slipped my mind

I thought of a great little blog post to put here, but was walking the kids to school and now I'm back - it's gone. Maybe I left it at school too? Now off to the gym and the weekly groceries, it may slip back into conscious recall, you never know.

21 November, 2009

Summertime relaxing in Brissie

We took a day off today. Not a day off parenting, though when the boys are having fun it feels a little bit like a holiday (I won't mention almost losing two of our boys when they took off...). Our 10 y.o. had his final basketball game of the year and seeing as we were already 'in town' as Auchenflower feels like to people who live further out, then we skipped over to South Brisbane, spent the dangerous middle-of-the-day hours in the air conditioned museum and then trotted over to the swimming action at South Bank. Nice, though parking costs quite a bit after four hours, so we left before we were really ready. Nevertheless, we left, promising ourselves we'd be back soon. It is a great feature of our 'home' town. It cost us less than $35 because we brought our own sandwiches and left 'early'. A Great Summer Saturday.

20 November, 2009

Trying on my old career

Once upon a time I studied at university for four years. At the end I graduated as an Occupational Therapist (OT) and went on to work for a few years in my profession. After a couple of years I got married and headed with my husband down the path of mission and having babies. Both of these took over my world and OT got pushed to the rear crevices of my brain (except while raising my kids - it might be just a fluke that all my kids are good at cutting, colouring, writing etc.). Today, almost ten years after I gave up my OT registration I headed back to what felt like uni. I sat in a workshop with one of my former lecturers teaching us about OT intervention with kids with coordination difficulties. I was scared. Yesterday I started to feel uncomfortable and this morning I woke an hour early (nearly unheard of). This was worse than going to a class reunion. Not only did I fear seeing people I'd trained with, I felt like I'd be pretending to be an OT. How easily could I stuff up? Well I made it through, without any major embarrassments. It even inspired me, brought back some of that old passion, if you like. I didn't anticipate not knowing some of the lingo, though. Abbreviations like DCD, COPM, PACS etc would stump me. Other words like scaffolding, daily log and four quadrant model induced puzzlement. New terms have dared to enter the field while my back was bent over Japanese textbooks. Now I have my challenge all laid out before me. How to achieve my goal? More reading and aquisition of resources. I hope to be able to offer a small service to the younger expat. kids attending the school where my husband works in Tokyo. We'll see if I manage it. It was all so much easier when I was a new grad. I could put all my energy into one task - being an OT. Now I have numerous important things to attend to. Being a mum, a wife, a missionary on home assignment, an aspiring writer and editorial assistant...and now an OT too. Getting a balance is not easy!

19 November, 2009

Feeling competant?

One of the things I like when my husband goes away is that I get to do everything. Weird? Let me explain.

 Living in a foreign country where you don't speak the language well makes you feel incompetent. Live there for many years and it can get you down. You can easily begin to believe that you have never been capable.

 One of the great things about coming back to Australia is that I can talk to (almost) anyone. I can do my own banking with ease. I can fill out forms with no help. I can make phone calls without even thinking about it. Going to the doctor is a breeze and I don't have to take my dictionary (unless we are interpreting Japanese immunisation records). Hey, I even took the car to the mechanic last week and talked to him both face to face and on the phone.

 I'm remembering that I once was a competent professional who held down a challenging job, managed my own finances and even lived on my own for two years. It is good to remember these things.

 My husband is a wonderful partner in the business of living and raising a family. In fact he is exceptionally competent in many things and in Japan is more competent than me because he's managed to learn more Japanese than me. Therefore when we're in Japan I lean on him a lot. He does the banking, he makes many of the phone calls, reads the kindy notices and fills out the forms.

He enjoys being in Australia because I am much less dependent on him. When he is away in Japan I feel very fragile. When he is away in Australia I feel a bit shaky, but much less so.

I do know that my self-worth doesn't come from what I can do, it ultimately comes from Christ and that I am loved and accepted by Him. However I don't think it hurts to remember the abilities that He's given us and use them when we can. Actually the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) tells us that God wants us to use, and presumably appreciate, the abilities He's given us.

I am thankful for all these things - for a wonderful husband, for a Lord who loves me and for the opportunity to live in Australia where I can communicate easily. Last week God was very gracious to me in providing all the help and strength I needed to survive the week. He also gently reminded me that the gifts and abilities He has given me are sufficient for where He's placed me.

18 November, 2009

Depressing shopping

Shopping for female swimming costumes (called "togs" in Queensland) has to be one of the most depressing activities one can engage in. I've been avoiding it for 12 years and finally today, with our summer holidays fast approaching, had to go and find a replacement. Standing nearly naked under harsh lights in front of multiple mirrors is bad enough, without having to try on a variety of badly fitting garments. Add to that the challenge of doing it on your own and with a limit to how many you can take into the fitting room, and you potentially have, not only a depressing activity, but a lengthy one. I'm now considering swimming in a coverall from neck to knee this summer! The one positive is that the current trend allows women to wear board shorts instead of garments that seek to show as much of your hips as possible. Unfortunately that kind of modesty doesn't extend to the upper body. We went swimming yesterday in the face of 39.5 degree Celsius temperatures. Later my youngest son saw my old one-piece togs (they'd been modestly hidden by a tank top). His comment was,
"Some people wear more skin than that."
Ain't that the truth. My aim is to "wear" as little skin as possible!

17 November, 2009

Satay chicken recipe

Some interest was shown in the recipe I used last night, so I've typed it up for your enjoyment. Satay Chicken (slow cooker version) 1 kg chicken breast or thigh fillets 2 cloves of garlic 2 heaped tablespoons peanut butter (1 Australian tablespoon = 20 mls) 5 teaspoons soy sauce (1 Australian teaspoon = 5 mls) 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon tomato sauce (ketchup) 1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce 3/4 cup or 185mls (1 Australian cup = 250 mls) coconut milk 3 teaspoons cornflour (optional) Remove any visible fat from the chicken and cut into strips. Peel and crush the garlic. Place in the slow cooker with the peanut butter, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, sweet chilli sauce and coconut milk. Stir to combine. Place lid on cooker and cook for 3 hours on High. If necessary or desired, mix the cornflour with about 2 tablespoons of cold water to a paste and use a little or all of it to thicken the dish. Vegetables can be included in the sauce (but I didn't, my boys prefer naked veggies). Peel and finely slice vegetables such as carrot, celery and onion. From: Slow Cooker by Sally Wise

Origami sumo wrestlers

Barbara asked for a photo of the origami sumo wrestlers I mentioned in a previous post. Here it is. The fun with these little guys is that you can actually stage a 'wrestle'. By putting them on a slightly unstable surface and tapping (gently or violently, depending on your personality and the surface's stability), you can have a match. Who wins? Simply the one who remains upright the longest. With many days in Japan where it was difficult to take the boys outside, this was a popular pastime - both the folding and the wrestling.

16 November, 2009

I was wrong

They loved their Satay Chicken, sweet chilli sauce and all. Our 7 y.o. asked for seconds - the ultimate complement when cooking for kids! I am falling in love with my slow cooker.

Another unpredictable day in our house

Our family is complete again. David flew home this morning. I found it a little disconcerting that when I went to be after 10 last night, he hadn't even gotten to the airport in Perth yet, and when I got up just after 6, he had been in Brisbane for over half an hour! Weird. We picked him up at the train station and had breakfast at McDonalds (one of my boys wants to know why Aussies call it Maccas). First time I think I have ever done this, goes against the grain. However, it ended up being scarily similar to what I normally eat for breakfast - muesli and yoghurt, orange juice and coffee. Even more scary is that our 7 y.o. ate his McMuffin with immense speed and continues to rave about it. We took the boys to school on the way home from Maccas. At home David first emptied his bags all over the bed and then collapsed - on the lounge. I'd diligently cleared a space on the bed, knowing he'd be exhausted (after doing a couple of all-nighters several weeks ago), but he grumpily declared that he wasn't going to allow himself a proper sleep or he'd not sleep tonight. Before I left for the gym and grocery shopping, he was quite asleep. It would have been more comfortable in bed! Finally got to the gym! I had almost constant kids last week, with gastro taking all my child-free time away, so no gym. Even a week without exercise was noticeable, today my muscles were protesting earlier than usual. About five minutes into Woolies (Woolworthes grocery store) my phone rang. Our 4 y.o. had just thrown up at Pre-Prep (like kindy). This is a bizarre virus. 7 y.o. hadn't thrown up since last Wednesday - where did our 4 y.o. get it from? So, grocery shopping prematurely interrupted, I raced back to school to pick our youngest up. Drove home and found David finally horizontal in bed. I wondered whether to leave them together and go and finish my shopping, but decided to risk it, being someone who is persistent - I'd planned to shop after all! Returned an hour later with all the goods to last us another week and found the youngest family member asleep. David had awoken refreshed and was checking email and almost back to normal. He made me lunch - one thing I'd missed. I hate making lunch at lunch-time. 4 y.o. threw up again after lunch. The trouble is he's been having sympathy pains since his big brother became ill over a week ago. It is hard to know what is the truth and what is wishful thinking. Though I have to admit, actual vomit is pretty convincing. Later this afternoon David also rang the taxation office to sort out a large tax bill that we errantly received last week. It was solved pretty quickly. Apparently he was given bad advice by the previous person he rang there and put figures in the wrong boxes. The tax office was treating our earnings in Japan as overseas business investment-type stuff and promptly started billing us for the year to come as well as charging us several thousands of dollars in taxation for last year! We're so glad it is mostly sorted out now (waiting till we get the reassessment to say it is totally sorted out). Now I am going to go and get a new recipe for Satay Chicken out of the slow cooker and try to persuade three of my family members to eat it. It has Sweet Chilli sauce in it. I'm rather suspecting that this experiment is going to end badly. Maybe I should pack my cooking ambitions away and just serve them plain hot dogs, sauce-less meatballs and plain cheese pizzas. Doesn't do much for my taste buds, but certainly promotes family harmony. So, there is a sample of the most interesting bits of our day. Are we ordinary? Yes we are!

14 November, 2009

Fun doing deputation

Two weeks ago tonight we were in Toowoomba running a Japan mission event which ended up with about 100 people attending. We've received overwhelmingly positive feedback. We ourselves had a lot of fun. Here are some photos from the evening. 1st David is helping people explore the Japanese language. 2nd In another group, Wendy is showing people how to make origami sumo wrestlers. 3rd Our deputation stand, that we cart, assemble and disassemble many times over. 4th Everyone eating Japanese curry rice.

13 November, 2009

When I'm an adult...

We periodically get asked what our children love about Japan. Difficult question to answer, because it is just the place they live, not an exotic place they've travelled to on holidays. However my 4 y.o. gave me interesting insight this morning. He said,
When I get to be an adult I want to live in Japan because my raincoat is there because it rains a lot and the lawn is never brown.
What lawn? Never mind. As a 4 y.o. he already has a broader view of the world than most of his peers.

12 November, 2009

A spear in the wash

This morning I carefully removed a spear from my lingerie bag. No, the natives haven't been here, but a portion of Lego was vomited on yesterday afternoon and it required washing :) Thankfully our 7 y.o. woke up cheerful and with a slight appetite today. No more vomiting or diarrhoea today! I've caught up a bit on housework, as well as mop the floor of the toilet and bathroom again after our 4 y.o. left it a little bit too long before going to the toilet. Tomorrow I finally have adult company. On Sunday I missed all the adults I'd counted on seeing - church and a party with good friends. Not really much in the way of decent conversation since (except a couple of phone calls). I have to admit to being a tiny bit tired of whinging kids. Lots of tantrums today, from 4 y.o. fighting with the others. And our recovering boy who swung from being happy to be alive to being grumpy due to a lack of energy, not having eaten since Saturday morning. Incredibly picky too - criticising all sorts of things like his brother's grammar and my facial expressions. A friend is coming for morning tea tomorrow and then Mum and Dad come after lunch for the night. Dad is putting in a couple of ceiling fans to help us cope with the heat without aircon. Gotta love having a dad who's an electrician. Though I have to say that this house is rather well built. Near the top of a hill it gets good breezes much of the time, tinted windows and insulation do their job well too. Well, it is past my bedtime, so I'd better make the effort or regret it tomorrow.

10 November, 2009

I'm frustrated

It is amazing how, in a day, frustrations can build up. Today, our 7 y.o. continued to have occasional diarrhoea. He seemed sparky, but every now and then a rush to the little boys room. So he's still home. I've had to cancel tomorrow - the day I'd planned to indulge in some leisurely shopping for me. First frustration. Second frustration. Getting the boys to swimming. I'm lucky, David usually does this. It wasn't too bad, except that our ill son looked pretty flaky. Poor kid, getting dragged to school for pick-up and then to swimming. But there was no one to leave him with, so in the car we got. Third frustration. When we got there I realised that our youngest had forgotten his goggles. Pointed it out while we were waiting the half an hour for his lesson (shouldn't have) and he whinged and whined and cajoled until his ill brother finally relented to walk back to the car with us to retrieve the goggles. 7 y.o. decided he couldn't walk all the way to the car, so I said to both of them to wait for me at the entrance and I'd drive around and get them. Did they believe me? No, 7 y.o. changed his mind while I was walking and 4 y.o. came running through the car park a fraction later as I manoeuvred the car back to his spot. He almost ran out onto a busy road. I raced home trying hard to stay to the speed limit; we only live about six minutes from the pool but several traffic lights bar the way. Dashed into the house, retrieved hotly desired goggles and raced back to the pool, all while our 10 y.o. did laps of the pool in his lesson. Dragged our sick 7 y.o. back into the swimming pool arena. The next one blindsided me. 4 y.o. who loves water, refused to get into the swimming pool. He was pretty creative in coming up with excuses, from "I'm shy" to "I want to swim in that lane (next one)." After all that I'd done to ensure he'd have a good lesson, I could hardly believe it. Sat next to the pool stunned for several minutes, occasionally expressing my disbelief to my sons. At least our 10 y.o. had a good lesson. And the kind lady at the front desk said that we could have make-up lessons for both the younger ones. She is not obliged to do that, it was a soothing balm to my ruffled soul. Now all I need is my husband home so I can verbally offload the whole frustrating story. But, there are still six sleeps left.

08 November, 2009

Husband leaves. Child develops gastro. Figures.

WARNING: If you have a delicate stomach, go to someone else's blog today! If you are a Facebook friend this title may be familiar. It is what I posted yesterday. Yes, our 7 y.o. had diarrhoea and vomiting yesterday and still hasn't picked up on energy or appetite yet. He managed a spectacular vomit in front of all three visitors I had in the house at the time. Two left rapidly (they were nearly going anyway, this just made their leaving speedier). The other, bless him, stayed around until I had all the boys in bed. He took the others for a walk while I spent a considerable amount of time making our house liveable again and was the source of much hilarity all afternoon. Male second grade teachers are pretty rare and certainly a precious breed. This one loves boys and is most happy to go (in conversation) to the places that boys always tend to go. He happened to be reading a page to the other two about vomit at the exact time when their brother provided a brilliant example of the topic at hand. We always struggle to have decent table conversation and it's worse when there is only one adult. Unfortunately current events have made it infinitely worse - they can hardly stay away from our amazing event of the weekend. Our 7 y.o. can't wait to get back to school and tell his friends that he "pooed his pants five times"! Our 4 y.o. is wondering out loud why the vomit was multi coloured and mostly contained vegetables as well as numerous other things like what a "vomiting bug" might look like. Thankfully the other two don't show signs of illness. I haven't vomited (not even when I cleaned up the dining room yesterday), but I'm a tad worried about the other end... The most unfortunate thing about this is that a much anticipated birthday party involving several of our best friends and their children is starting up about now. And we're missing it. Tragic for this extrovert who usually lives in a different country to these friends and has few opportunities to meet them. Oh well. At least they all live in Brisbane and we still have eight months left in the country. There'll be other opportunities.

07 November, 2009

Meaning of English words imported into Japanese

Here are the meanings of the words I posted a few days ago.
  1. Manshon - mansion. But the meaning is different. This is a large fairly modern apartment block. Japanese are amazed that the meaning of the English word is for a large house that usually only has one family in it.
  2. Sutaduresu taiya - studless tyres. English? Yes, but not where I come from. These are tyres used on snowy roads, but have not studs (which wreck the roads).
  3. Sutovu - stove. Again a different meaning. This is a heater.
  4. Aian - iron.
  5. Pasocon - PC - personal computer.
  6. Beeza - visa
  7. Youkari - eucalyptus tree
  8. Lordo (has two meanings) - lord and load
  9. Sutsukesu - suitcase
  10. Makudonarudo - McDonalds
Make sense? Then you have to learn the script that they are all written in. アイオン is iron, for example. Lots of fun.

06 November, 2009

The end of a quiet week, but it isn't over yet

Yes, it has been a delightfully quiet week. One that I've even been able to contemplate non-essentials like vacuuming corners and writing non-urgent articles. But.. Tomorrow David flies to Perth (check your atlas, if you're unfamiliar with Australian geography - he'll be on the plane for about five hours - Perth is in the south-west corner of Australia and Brisbane is on the east coast). He'll be there for nine sleeps. I'll be here with three boys for the same length of time, though it will seem much longer on this side of the country than his! The last times we've done significant deputation (1999-2000 and 2004-5) we've all done the Western Australia trip. We have several supporting churches over there and OMF over there needs all the encouragement we can give them. The sheer fact of the matter is that we've grown larger as a family and take up more aeroplane seats - a financial concern. And two of the boys are in school now. So, I'm staying home and David is doing it alone. I'm doing the week alone too - with our three crazy, energetic boys. Not that he has it easy either. He's going to have a pretty full schedule. We also work as a team during these years at home. We're a typical introvert-extrovert couple. I do the chatting and networking side of deputation with more ease than my husband. The one thing in my favour is that for the first time ever (during a separation) I'll have everyone at "school" for three days he is away. Easier than the month we did apart two years ago. I had the kids with me all the time (and they were two years younger - meaning a two year old tantrum thrower) and we were living in someone else's house. Anyway, pray for us all, please. Be ready for crazy updates too!

05 November, 2009

Square Watermelons

This was passed on in an email from my friend Mrs Q: Square Watermelons A round watermelon can take up a lot of room in a refrigerator and the usually round fruit often sits awkwardly on refrigerator shelves. Smart Japanese farmers have forced their watermelons to grow into a square shape by inserting the melons into square, tempered glass cases while the fruit is still growing on the vine.

English words in Japanese

A friend commented on this post mentioning all the foreign words that Japanese absorb into their language. He was absolutely correct. Can you see the wonderful "English" in this photo? Here are some others, see if you can guess their meanings (for fun, please hold back if you speak Japanese and let the non-Japanese speakers have a go): (I've typed them as close as I can to how they sound in Japanese.)
  1. Manshon
  2. Sutaduresu taiya
  3. Sutovu
  4. Aian
  5. Pasocon
  6. Beeza
  7. Youkari
  8. Lordo (has two meanings)
  9. Sutsukesu
  10. Makudonarudo
Answers here.

04 November, 2009

A jus?

Anyone know what a "jus" is? I've been reading my new slow cooker cookbook and it keeps coming up with the word "jus". It really annoys me when recipes use words that are not English. Unusual ingredients seems to be pretty trendy too. I usually avoid such recipes - by the time I've hunted down the rare ingredients, I've wasted half a day at the grocery store. Actually the trend of using foreign or flashy sounding words even seems to have infiltrated the hairdressers - or maybe it is too long since I've been to an Australian hairdresser. There were signs up on the wall advertising various services they could provide, trouble was I could hardly understand them.

Christmas nearly here?

This morning we awoke to a 4 y.o. complaining that his big brother was singing. Not only was he singing, but his repertoire was Christmas carols. Later after he tired, he set the iPod to play more Christmas music. It is also blisteringly hot today. (I know it, I walked to school and back this afternoon.) An Aussie Christmas is definitely on the way. It feels pretty normal too - heat, school finishing up for the year, notices about Christmas parties at school etc. Hey, the cricket season is even starting up. This is our second southern hemisphere Christmas in nine years. We're a little excited...we'd be more excited if we weren't so drippy. Check here for an Australia Christmas Jingle Bells by a famous Australian Christian performer.

03 November, 2009

Pets for show-and-tell, vacuuming and writing

Yes, the hermies, as they've lovingly become known as in our house - easier than Jessica, Jaz and Spikey, made it to show and tell today. They seem to be fine, though possibly a little tired. Once they were settled and enjoying great fame at PrePrep (like kindergarten), I finished off an article I wrote called "Loving missionaries with your questions". It is based on a lot of what I've said on this blog over the last couple of months. Thanks for your comments, some of which I used. I've sent it off to be published in our small denominational magazine. I'm thinking of doing some rewriting and submitting it some other places too. While I was doing final editing, David rode off and posted his last assignment for the year. Yay! So, just to celebrate, we did some much needed cleaning. Such fun :) Actually it is far more fun when done in community (now you know my personality). I did a "corners and all" vacuum that took hours and David cleaned the toilets and washed a floor rug. Heaps more that could be done, but I've run out of housekeeping enthusiasm for today. It is far more fun writing stuff. Cleaning is a very satisfying task, but it has to be one of world's most easily undone. At least my 7 y.o. came in and noticed, "Why is the house all clean?" he asked! Now you know what my house usually looks like too.

02 November, 2009

Saturday went...

really well! I wore my summer kimono (yukata) for the first half of the evening and managed to find a girl almost the right size for our "girl's" kimono. We ate Japanese food (curry rice and miso) with chopsticks, did origami together, gave people a taste of Japanese language, showed videos on below-the-surface of Japan and had a lot of fun. People came away with a deeper understanding of Japan, the culture and what it might feel like to live there. We did have to cut a few things out of the program, like the slipper relay and questions at the end, but overall it was a good evening and lots of people gave us good feedback at the end. The main thing we kept hearing was that most missionaries just stand up the front and talk or show videos (or slides) - boring - but that our evening was "the best missionary event I've ever been to"! It was interactive and not at all static. People will remember it for much longer. What we really want is for more church groups to get enthusiastic about a program like this. It was not a small thing to organise, but very worthwhile. We'd happily do dozens of these, and even though they are more work, we'd rather do them than stand up the front of churches for a 10 minute missionary "spot". We had 100 people come to this small church. Quite a lot weren't even from this church. More than a dozen knew me as a child - a bit scary. However no dodgy stories of my childhood were told that I know of. One man who knew my parents before they were married recounted to us some of the message given at our wedding! We're all tired today. The boys were up till almost 10pm on Saturday night. Hoping that the fairly blank diary for this week translates into a quiet week. But now I'm off to the bank, gym and grocery store.

01 November, 2009

Outside face, inside face

Last month I wrote this small piece for our monthly news/prayer letter: Relationships in Japan Japan is a challenging place to make new relationships. It is a group society, yet they are not as communal as many other Asians. In some countries the place to meet people is on the street or at the market, but not in Japan. People are not in and out of each others homes, either. Japanese usually have long-term relationships which are based around work, education or location (i.e. neighbours). Relative status difference governs relationships and language. If they don’t know your ‘status’ in relation to theirs, they are nervous about talking with you. Avoidance of eye contact with strangers is noticeable. Tatemae and Honne refer to a key aspect of Japanese culture, the public persona and real feelings. Tatemae is a face that Japanese show in public. They may have a specific role due to their social status or position in the specific group (such as corporation or company). They behave as they are expected to behave in the specific situation, regardless of their personal opinions about the matter. In a land where population density is high, the use of tatemae is a key component to avoiding conflict. Japanese are very good at avoiding confrontation. To the westerner, this may sound dishonest, but I think Australians are pretty good at avoiding confrontation, too! Honne refers to real feelings and opinions. It is not something one is encouraged to show in public, especially during business dealings. It is something a Japanese shows only to his closest friends (or sometimes when drunk) and family. Rarely did we become close enough friends to hear real feelings and opinions. People have been quite intrigued and have asked lots of questions about it (good questions). What do you think? How different is this to what we do in Australia? We put on our "outside" faces too, don't you think. Possibly not to the same extent, but we certainly do it.

31 October, 2009

Japanese vending machines

I miss vending machines! Truly. In Japan and especially in Tokyo they are everywhere and very convenient. Australian drinks are so expensive compared to ones you can buy from Japanese vending machines. But drinks are not the only thing you can buy from vending machines in Japan. Check this out for an eye opening look at the variety of things you can buy.

Time is money or is it?

A conversation with a friend recently reminded me about how sometimes Time=Money and sometimes it doesn't. Actually, most times time doesn't equal money. Get involved in creative work and it is hard to see that time equals money. I mean, how long does it take to write an excellent song or craft a readable book? What about the value of time when you are changing dirty nappies or cleaning up vomit? When you're comforting a friend or catching up on the phone? Even in a job where time does equal money it doesn't always work. When I worked as an Occupational Therapist in rural Queensland I was an employee of Queensland Health. They paid me a rate per hour. But each hour I spent on the job wasn't equal. Some clients came to see me at the hospital where I was based, for others I travelled two hours each way to go and see. I hope they were thankful that the government picked up the tab. I had to try not to think of the financial side of things. The client who lived two hours away was just as important as the one who lived down the street. Motherhood and parenting in general are difficult to measure in the time=money formula. But so is Christian work. I'm sure that more than one church has tried to do it. Not sure how successful it can be. Prayer, sermon preparation, evangelism, visitation etc. Who can put a price? To put it more personally, we ourselves are doing work where it is impossible to put a money value on our time. We've travelled and stayed overnight to do a meeting for 12 people. Done a very similar thing in a different place and reached 100 people. Just the other day I drove nearly two hours to a prayer meeting for five people, none of whom financially support us, but all of whom pray diligently for us and Japan. Actually it is detrimental if we think in monetary terms. Thoughts like, "Will this meeting generate financial support?" puts a lot of pressure on you to perform. And takes your eyes off God and what He might be doing in the hearts of people, something you cannot put a money value on. Instead we put our financial needs before our heavenly Father and then try to get on with our work. And trust that God has prepared the way before us.

30 October, 2009

More on wearing my summer kimono

I asked a couple of days ago advice about wearing my summer kimono at our Saturday evening Japanese evening. The overwhelming response was 'Yes'. So I will, with a proviso. It is a relatively uncomfortable garment (aren't most elegant outfits?). It has four belts as well as a large stiff bow at the back which doesn't allow me to relax into a chair back. Additionally the shoes are shorter than my foot (that is the correct size for some reason). So, I've decided to take a back-up. An alternative to change into if I get too sick of it. Trick is, when? The evening will (hopefully) run something like this: 5pm set up 6pm 100 people arrive and eat 7pm divide into 4 groups introduction slipper relay 7.30 groups rotate around 4 stations - origami, DVD, language lab and a scavenger hunt based on our mission stand 8.30 conclusion with a short presentation about CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan) and question time. What do you think? Do I eat with the yukata (correct name for summer kimono) on and change before 7 or do I do it the other way around?

TV is not playing what I want...

We're trying to educate our 4 y.o. right now that TVs don't play what you want when you want. Sound strange? He wants Playschool to be on now, and doesn't understand that because it is not yet 9.30, it is not on. This is because our kids have mostly watched English videos and DVDs in Japan, which, of course, are in our total control and don't run by a schedule. They certainly don't watch much TV and usually I use it very strategically because I can control when they watch it. They mostly watch TV while I'm making dinner, in that nasty period that every mum knows about - 4.30 onwards! Just when you're trying to prepare the food they need and they require much more assistance than usual to manage their relationships! TV doesn't necessarily fit so neatly into our timetable. However we're enjoying a spot of Aussie TV every now and then. It is nice to watch new episodes of Playschool, for example.

29 October, 2009

Things about me that have changed

Someone pointed out yesterday that we've lived in Japan for almost a decade. Sounds imposing when you put it like that. I've have noticed a few things that I probably do differently to 10 years ago, and not just because I'm older!
  • I use my hands to illustrate some of my words, like numbers. This comes of learning another language and lacking confidence that people will understand your words. Interesting that it has translated over into English.
  • I've been told I speak softly (except when dealing with children who aren't responding). I don't think that this was particularly a characteristic of mine before I went to Japan. A couple of theories - possibly just Japanese. I wonder if it is also born of sticking out so much and trying to compensate by speaking softly?
  • I don't like my shoes on in the house, though possibly that was the case before.
  • I can tend to go over the top in humour or speaking my mind, just because I can.
  • I speak to people in lines, chat to bank employees, checkout chicks - just because I can!
  • I pay less attention to what others think. For years we've been living in another culture, with lots of people paying a lot of attention to us. In the end I've had to largely disregard them and get on with doing my own thing. Sounds weird, but here's an example; managing my kids in public. In Japan they attract a lot of attention in public, just because of the way they look. Dealing with bad behaviour in public is tricky in the face of that. I've had to block out the fact that lots of people are observing us and get on with managing my family as best I can.
  • Related to the above but slightly different - I've grown fairly comfortable with me (this is a sign of age too, I know). We are living lives so different from most of the people around us - here and in Japan - that we've had to find our own plimsoll lines. How much we can take on, when to say no, even what to feed my family, how to manage my own kids, and what my own role will be outside of my home-maker role. With so few people as role models it has not been easy and negative comparison with others is a potential trap.
Well, that is quite a few things, ranging from the surface to quite deep. Anyone who knew me before and now want to add their observations? We have had virtual strangers tell us they can tell we've lived in Japan, just from the way we carry ourselves! Scary!

28 October, 2009

Should I wear my summer kimono?

We have about 90 people coming to a Japanese evening in Toowoomba on Saturday. It will be both fun and informative - the best combination! My question is, should I wear my summer kimono? Advice please!

27 October, 2009

Japanese customs

Doing some research this morning, I stumbled upon a webpage called "10 Japanese Customs You Must Know Before A Trip to Japan". It has some interesting observations on Japanese customs. I love it when you read something that crystallises something you know, but haven't been able to put it into words yet. Here are a couple I found this morning on the above page:
Some false assumptions among many Japanese that’s slowly being dispelled by time is the “uniqueness” of Japan...(and therefore)
  • Japan is the only country that has four seasons;
  • foreigners can’t understand Japan; (nor can they speak Japanese)
  • only Japanese can use chopsticks properly.

It's absolutely true. So many times people have commented on my amazing ability to speak Japanese (or use chopsticks) when I've only uttered a short phrase, no better than a primary schooler might do....

Here's another key insight:

Drawing attention to yourself as an individual is a huge no-no: don’t blow your nose in public, try to avoid eating while on the go, and don’t speak on your cell phone in crowded public areas like trains or buses.

The main problem with this is that foreigners simply can’t avoid standing out; we stick out like sore thumbs no matter how long we’ve been here, or how much we know about Japanese culture and society.

As a result, being in Japan gives foreigners the status of D-level celebrities: you’ll get glances...
...and more. Especially if you have white babies or children. We've had ladies nearly swooning at the "cuteness" of our kids! It is wonderful to be in a land at present where we don't stick out. And in fact, where it doesn't matter too much if you do!

26 October, 2009

A mum-of-boys

I feel distinctly like a mum-of-boys tonight. Dinner tonight was Pirate Ship Pizzas with various salad accessories (row boat tomatoes, lettuce sea, cucumber turtles etc.) Eaten with much enthusiasm by our boys. I also went shopping with our 7 y.o. to buy him his birthday present with the Gift Card his grandma gave him. We bought a large castle. I even paid a little extra to secure this gift, thinking it'd be a great addition to our family's collection. This boy thing is obviously growing on me. Finally yesterday at the meeting we went to in preparation for a post-Christmas Scripture Union camp, there was some pretty bad "boy" humour going around and I was laughing. My friend shook her head. They decided it was my boys who'd shaped and moulded me! And here was I thinking that I was training them!

Just as I thought

Sarah's name has changed. She's now known as Jessica. No reason given, his owner just decided a change was needed. She also changed shells yesterday. It is all getting rather confusing. We haven't killed any of them yet. In fact they all look distinctly happy. Just as happy as I am to hear the rolling thunder. Rain is invading my sense - I can hear and smell it. We've waited several months for beautiful soaking rain. We haven't heard it in Australia since we arrived. I miss rain. In Tokyo it rains about 122 days a year at an average of 1.5m each year. It's often wet. Wet enough that we all had our own umbrella with one or two spares. Our youngest has had an umbrella almost from when he could walk because he got dragged along on all our kindergarten drop-offs and pick-ups as well as grocery shopping without an undercover carpark. And umbrellas are just a lot less messy than raincoats when jumping in and out of cars. Japan has some very cute umbrellas for kids. One of our son's kindy friends had one which resembled a lady bug. Most Japanese have several umbrellas. A clear one for riding the bike, a tiny folded one for just-in-case days, a large one for parties, a formal looking one and probably several others! They come cheap and expensive. And they're used frequently. Here's a typical photo. Our boys are feeling the rain thing too. Our eldest said it felt like he was back in Japan this evening. Ahhh natsukashiiii! (Japanese for 'a nostalgic feeling'.)

25 October, 2009

A story on promises

We've had a busy day today with deputation, boys and a Scripture Union pre-camp meeting (more on that later). I'm tired, so here is a Japanese story which came through my inbox some weeks ago. PROMISES ARE TO BE KEPT A fascinating anecdote is told in Japan of the famous 16th-century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who wanted to reward one of his faithful retainers. “You can have anything you desire,” Hideyoshi said. “In that case, please give me one grain of rice today, then two grains tomorrow, and four on the day after that,” the retainer replied. “Please continue to double the grains of rice for the same number of days as there are squares on a shogi board.” (A shogi board is a Japanese chess board with 81 squares). “If you only want grains of rice, you're a man of few wants,” he said. “You shall have your wish.” Hideyoshi was dumbfounded by his request. One month later, however, a commotion broke out at Hideyoshi's residence, Osaka Castle. Upon the retainer’s request, a succession of rice bags was being brought out from the rice granaries. The number of rice grains continues to double each day, and by the 30th day, the amount due was 540 million grains. Since one rice bag, weighing about 60 kilograms, can contain about 2.5 million grains, the retainer was due to receive more than 200 bags on the 30th day. The combined amount of rice Shinzaemon received up to the 30th day would have reached 400 bags. Likewise, the retainer was due to receive 800 rice bags on the 31st day and 1,600 bags the following day. On the 45th day, he was due to receive more than 2.5 million bags of rice. Even if Hideyoshi, who managed to unify the nation, had given away all his assets, he still would not have been able to keep the promise he made to the retainer. He turned white and was at his wits end. “It's my fault. Won't you please name something else as your reward?” Hideyoshi begged the retainer. “You should never make a thoughtless promise by offering someone anything they want,” the retainer cautioned his master. The overconfident Hideyoshi had a pang of regret for having made a promise that he was not able to keep. Source: Yomiuri News, by Mr. Akio Hayashida, 2008-05-13

24 October, 2009

Sarah, Jaz and Spikey

It's more than 24 hrs since we became proud owners of three hermit crabs. They've been named Sarah, Jaz and Spikey. (Sarah and Jaz pictured - though they're very difficult to get a good shot of). Spikey is our 4 y.o.'s. He helped us chose them while his brothers were at school! Much pride! Nearly got himself run over as he left the pet shop and carried them ever so carefully across the carpark, heedless to the traffic he was holding up. Spikey's shell is, well, spiky. We're unsure if that name will hold when Spikey decides to change shells. Jaz (correctly spelled his proud 10 y.o.owner tells me) managed to change shells this afternoon without anyone noticing - quite a feat when we were all home and the novelty of 'hermit crab watching' hasn't yet worn off. Sarah's name was a surprise. Her 7 y.o. owner has a reputation for being pretty anti-girl, maybe that is changing. Of course we cannot tell the sex of the crabs, but for now Sarah is a girl. Her name hasn't changed in 27 hours, despite our fears. She is a challenge to integrate into our household, though. Up till now Mummy is the only one for whom female pronouns were required. She, her and hers should be getting a work-out now, but just sometimes the male pronouns slip in. We watched with amusement when Jaz and Spikey fought over a desirable pozzy in their new home. For several minutes they continuously flipped the other out of the cosy corner. At first Spikey's owner was upset, but soon he realised that no one was getting hurt, they were just playing. Eventually Spikey won anyway and Jaz sulked away to another spot to rest. We've been to three different Pet Shops in two days now, in order to get all the right bits. Certainly a diversion for our household. And I'm still feeling like a new mum, worried that we're going to kill them off in the first week. I'm also wondering how long the "I'll get them some new water." spirit will prevail? We're supposed to bath them in salt water once a week and probably clean their flooring once a month. We'll see how good we are at hermitat housekeeping.

22 October, 2009

Aussie culture explained for North Americans

There are some very interesting insights into Australian culture for Americans here. I pretty much knew everything about Australia, which is reassuring. I'm not sure I'd agree with Americans trying to say the word "G'Day" much though. They mangle it dreadfully and I'd be tempted to laugh at them. I learnt (or learned for the US educated) some things about America, for example a “main course” (as the US use it) is an entrée in Australia, while “entrée” is the term used to refer to an appetizer.

Preparing for pets

After my last post on pets many gave me helpful advice. Balancing them all up, we've decided to buy three hermit crabs (one for each boy). Yesterday I went and bought them a home, shell grit for a floor covering and a water container. I was particularly pleased that I found them a portable home. It even has handles, so when we're away we can take them with us. The boys were suitably excited. They jostled over who was going to set up the home (with interior decorating, as you can see). They discussed what they could call them and my discerning 10 y.o. wondered why they needed a roof. Told that the crabs can climb, he pondered how. Our 7 y.o. is a little obsessed with names at present. It's been a recent revelation to him - the amazing variation of western names. In the last few weeks he's made a rather long list in a sketch book and is proceeding to name and rename stuffed toys, brothers, himself, toy cars and now, presumably, his pet hermit crab. We're fearing for his poor crab, that it will have itself an identity crisis. Not only will its name change regularly, but probably its sex too. All up, I'm glad that I didn't buy the crabs yesterday. They might have been unwittingly murdered in the frenzied excitment. Tomorrow our 4 y.o. will help me buy them after our dental check-up (which happens to be near the pet store).